Pro-charter school group pays $425,000 for failing to disclose donors in Massachusetts ballot fight

Source: Shira Schoenberg, Masslive.com, September 11, 2017

An advocacy organization that gave more than $15 million to a Massachusetts ballot campaign to lift the cap on charter schools has agreed to pay $426,500 to settle allegations of campaign finance violations. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance alleged that Families for Excellent Schools contributed money to the ballot campaign in a way that was designed to hide the identity of its donors. The organization denies any wrongdoing. This is the largest settlement ever collected by Massachusetts’ Office of Campaign and Political Finance….

… Under the settlement, Families for Excellent Schools paid the state of Massachusetts $426,500 – the total amount that the organization had in cash as of Aug. 21. It registered as a ballot committee and filed a retroactive campaign finance report disclosing its donors. Its affiliated organization Families for Excellent Schools is barred from campaigning in Massachusetts for four years. According to the campaign finance report, many of the major donors to Families for Excellent Schools worked in the financial industry for various investment management firms. Most, though not all, of the donors, were from Massachusetts….

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Baker: Back to drawing board on charter schools
Source: Andy Metzger, Sentinel & Enterprise, November 10, 2016

Rejected by the voters in his bid for an expansion of charter school access, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he will explore other means of reducing the gap between the achievement levels of white students and students of color. Speaking a day after Question 2 went down, with 37.8 percent in favor and 62.2 percent opposed, Baker mulled extensions to the school day or models similar to a Springfield partnership where schools within a public school district have authority over making their own hiring, scheduling, budgeting and curriculum decisions. … The Republican governor had backed the ballot question, which would have allowed for up to 12 additional charter schools per year beyond statutory caps, asserting that charters “have been in many cases the single biggest thing that have closed the achievement gap.” A popular Republican governor who was elected by a 40,000-vote margin two years ago in a predominantly Democrat state, Baker campaigned for Question 2 and against Question 4, legalizing marijuana. … While Question 2 had immense financial backing, spending $24 million compared to opponents’ $14 million, local school committees, mayors and teachers unions mobilized against it. Despite the roughly $10 million spending advantage, the question was defeated by a substantial margin. Only Question 3, which mandates protections for farm animals, had a more lopsided margin. A town-by-town map of results published by WBUR-FM shows opposition was widespread and nearly unanimous through cities and rural towns. A string of support in a prosperous part of Metrowest stretches from Lincoln to Sherborn, while other towns supporting the measure include Nantucket, Cohasset and Manchester-By-The-Sea. …

Massachusetts Ballot Measure on Charter School Expansion Fails
Source: New York Times, November 9, 2016

Voters in Massachusetts rejected a $26 million effort to increase the number of charter schools in the state, delivering a blow to that movement and a victory for the unions that also spent heavily trying to defeat it. The measure lost, 62.6 percent to 37.4 percent. … There was little dispute from either side that the existing 78 charter schools have performed well. But the state caps how much money communities can send to charter schools, and nine communities, including Boston, have hit the cap or can open only one more school, and thus have long wait lists. The battle turned to the question of equality: Would bringing more charters help close the achievement gap for minority children in those cities? Or would it drain money from traditional public schools and create a tiered education system? … Polling suggested the question would be answered mostly along partisan lines, with Republicans like Gov. Charlie Baker supporting expansions and Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren opposing them. …


After charter school defeat, what’s next for Massachusetts education reform?
Source: Shira Schoenberg, MassLive, November 9, 2016

Although an expansion of charter schools was defeated at the ballot box, the discussion of how to fund and improve Massachusetts education is far from over, advocates on both sides of the ballot question said Tuesday night. … The ballot question would have allowed the state to approve up to 12 new or expanded charter schools a year, outside of an existing cap. Currently, more than 32,000 students are on waiting lists for charter schools. Although voters rejected the initiative, meaning there will be no change to the current cap, the debate has raised issues that lawmakers may be pressed to reconsider. How should the state improve failing school districts? Do changes need to be made to a funding formula to provide more money for all schools? Should the charter cap be lifted at all? … Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who opposed charter school expansion, said now that the question was defeated, “We really need to get back and roll up our sleeves and figure out what do we need to do to invest in public education.” Healey said charter school expansion would have been “too much of a band aid and a quick fix” that does not fundamentally address the issue of how to shore up education in all schools. … The Yes on 2 campaign said in a statement that existing charter schools will continue to provide “first-rate education choices” to students. “The creation of the charter movement, and the effort to reform a system that has changed so little in a hundred years isn’t easy, but we know the thousands of parents, teachers and students that have fueled this campaign will press on,” the campaign said. …

Wall Street Money For Charter Schools Fight: Teachers Unions File Complaint About Gov. Baker And Anti-Corruption Rules
Source: David Sirota, International Business Times, November 1, 2016

Two Massachusetts teachers unions filed a formal complaint Monday against financial firms whose executives have funded committees supporting a charter school ballot measure. The unions allege that in funding the groups — which are running ads featuring Republican Gov. Charlie Baker — the firms may be violating federal anti-corruption rules. An investigation published last week by International Business Times and MapLight found that executives at eight financial firms contracted to manage Massachusetts state pension money have donated at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2. Baker has been a vocal proponent of the initiative, which would expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts. He filmed a recent ad in support of the measure, which the groups have put on television during the final weeks of the campaign. … In a complaint filed Monday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the unions asked regulators to investigate whether the donations violate federal “pay-to-play” laws. A 2011 rule from the Securities and Exchange Commission is designed to prevent financial firms that manage state pension money from donating to officials who can influence state pension investment decisions. Because he appoints trustees to Massachusetts’ state pension board, Gov. Baker’s campaign is covered by the SEC rule. The restrictions do not cover ballot measures or policy initiatives, but the unions argue that the donations boosting Question 2 could aid Baker’s reelection in 2018, and therefore could be covered by the rule’s anti-circumvention provisions. Those provisions say that financial firms and public officials covered by the law cannot do “anything indirectly which, if done directly, would result in a violation of the rule.” …

Bernie Sanders jumps into Massachusetts’s charter school fight, opposes Question 2
Source: Nik DeCosta-Kipa, Boston.com, November 2, 2016

Bernie Sanders says he opposes the Massachusetts ballot question to raise the charter school cap, in what is one of Question 2 opponents’ most high-profile, if not particularly surprising, endorsements. Inserting himself into the state politics of his southerly neighbor, the popular Vermont senator said in a statement Monday that the campaign supporting Question 2 was being backed by Wall Street hedge fund managers and, if passed, the measure would drain resources from public schools. … “We must defeat Massachusetts Ballot Question 2,” Sanders continued. “This is Wall Street’s attempt to line their own pockets while draining resources away from public education at the expense of low-income, special education students and English language learners.” Both campaigns on Question 2 have been infused with cash this year. The Yes on 2 campaign has received the majority of its funding from an opaque New York group, which has also supported efforts to increase charter schools in other states, while Question 2 opponents are backed almost entirely by teachers unions. …

Opinion: Don’t raise the charter-school cap. Eliminate it
Source: Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, November 2, 2016

WHEN MASSACHUSETTS charter schools were still in their beta phase, it made sense to limit their number. As with other promising innovations — in technology, in medicine, in business — a gradual rollout of charter schools ensured that there would be ample time to monitor progress, adjust standards, fix bugs, and learn from experience. Massachusetts learned well. Its experiment with state-chartered public schools has proved a phenomenal success. More than two decades after the original charter law was passed, the state’s 69 charter schools (25 in Boston) are among the most effective urban public schools in America. As study after study has confirmed, the benefits of a Massachusetts charter school education are profound. They lead to improved math and language mastery, lower dropout rates, higher SAT scores, and greater college attendance. … So effective are public charter schools in Massachusetts that nearly 33,000 students, predominantly black and Latino, are on waiting lists to get into one. Question 2 on the statewide ballot would allow the state to approve 12 new charter schools per year. For anyone who believes in good education, for anyone who wants disadvantaged children to have a better shot at learning than they can get from chronically underperforming city schools, voting “yes” should be a no-brainer. … Teachers unions have a vested financial interest in fighting off charter schools, which are not controlled by local school committees, and therefore not bound by local collective-bargaining agreements. Charter school teachers (and other employees) are free to join a union, but almost never choose to do so. No wonder the unions are bitter. But the goal of public education isn’t to keep unions rolling in membership dues. Nor is it to preserve the arrangement that public-sector unions insist on: rigid seniority rules, ironclad job security, drawn-out bureaucratic disciplinary procedures, and hyperdetailed contractual provisions. The goal of public education is to teach children and prepare them for adulthood. If urban charter schools have come up with a superior means of achieving that goal, why shouldn’t there be as many of them as possible? …

Incomplete or inaccurate state data muddies charter school debate
Source: Shira Schoenberg, MassLive, October 31, 2016

Incomplete or inaccurate data maintained by the state — this time involving the number of special education teachers employed by charter schools — is again muddying the debate over charter school expansion. Question 2 on the November ballot would allow state officials to approve up to 12 new charter schools a year outside of an existing cap. Save Our Public Schools, the ballot committee opposed to charter school expansion, released a report Thursday aimed at showing that charter schools do not adequately serve students with disabilities. … While the report does appear to include inaccuracies, it is also based on the best available data. The data is drawn from a table available on the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website listing the number of full time equivalent special education teachers at every school. It is based on data submitted by each school. According to Robinson’s report, the data show that charter schools have fewer special education teachers than public schools. Of 29 districts listed on the website as not having a single full-time special education teacher, 19 are charter schools. The report also found that charter schools report one special education teacher per 36 students with disabilities, compared to one teacher for every 22 students with disabilities in public school districts. … According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the data for special education teachers listed on the website does not include special education directors, paraprofessionals, audiologists and therapists, who are listed as separate job categories. In addition, a department official said it is possible that schools made coding errors when submitting their information. For example, in 2014-2015, the Worcester school district reported having no special education teachers — a mistake still listed on the state website. This year, Worcester is listed as having 97 special education teachers. …

Wall Street Firms Make Money From Teachers’ Pensions — And Fund Charter Schools Fight
Source: David Sirota, Avi Asher-Schapiro AND Andrew Perez, International Business Times, October 26, 2016

An International Business Times/MapLight investigation has found that executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2,  which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. Millions more dollars have flowed from the executives to nonprofit groups supporting the charter school movement in the lead-up to the November vote. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, himself a former financial executive, is leading the fight to increase the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools in Massachusetts — and he appoints trustees to the board that directs state pension investments. … Baker’s office did not respond to IBT/MapLight questions about campaign donations from executives at firms that manage state pension money. This report is the latest in an IBT/MapLight series examining how anti-corruption laws are circumvented or unenforced. The cash flowing to the Massachusetts school initiative spotlights more than just a fight over education policy: It exemplifies one of the ways in which the securities and investment industry can get around a federal rule that was designed to restrict financial executives from giving campaign cash to governors with the power to influence state pension business. In the case of Massachusetts, since the federal rule does not cover money donated to governors’ policy initiatives, executives banned from donating directly to Gov. Baker are able to give to a constellation of groups that are pushing his pet cause — and that in some cases are advised by Baker’s political associates. Meanwhile, Baker’s appointees at the state pension board are permitted to continue delivering investment deals and fees to those same donors’ firms. …

Baker consultant wields influence on commuter rail, charter schools
Source: Andrew Ryan and Mark Arsenault, Boston Globe, October 25, 2016

But a review of e-mails obtained by the Globe shows that a consulting firm working for Keolis Commuter Services helped orchestrate the communication strategy with the administration on a controversial proposal to grant the company an additional $66 million in July. State officials may have had reason to listen: The firm was Keyser Public Strategies, founded by Will Keyser, the architect of Baker’s 2014 campaign. … E-mails also show O’Connor and Keyser have worked closely with state officials to help lead Baker’s fight to increase the state’s number of charter schools. O’Connor and Keyser are registered lobbyists paid to advocate on behalf of pro-charter school organizations. … The Baker administration said in a statement that Keyser Public Strategies’ “interactions with the administration regarding Keolis are strictly limited to communications strategy and media planning, not contract negotiations, management, or policy decisions.” But there is no way to gauge the full extent of the firm’s influence on state government on behalf of its clients. The Baker administration, like its predecessors, has maintained it is not subject to the state’s open records law and will not acknowledge whether it has withheld additional e-mails involving Keyser Public Strategies. The governor’s office said it voluntarily releases some records on a case-by-case basis, including this batch involving Keolis. …

Questions raised over charter school campaign funding
Source: Andy Metzger, WWLP, October 25, 2016

Asked to investigate whether public education dollars financed a ballot question campaign, the state’s education department said it will defer to state campaign finance regulators, who said they will not conclude any cases before the Nov. 8 election. Sen. Jamie Eldridge last Wednesday asked Education Secretary James Peyser and Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester to look into whether the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association used public dollars in its $100,000 donation to the Question 2 campaign. … Unlike other political donors, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association receives substantial funding from public education dollars. According to Eldridge’s letter, in fiscal 2015 the association collected $806,581 from member charter schools’ dues and $130,019 in government grants. The organization had $2.1 million in total revenue that year, Eldridge wrote, concluding the association receives “nearly half of its funding from public sources.” Eldridge highlighted another $150,000 donation from the association’s Voter Education Fund, which the senator referred to as the group’s “advocacy arm,” to the same ballot question committee. … On Oct. 5, the Save Our Public Schools group organized in opposition to Question 2, raised nearly identical concerns to those voiced more recently by Eldridge, publicizing a complaint Boston parent John Lerner made to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance about the charter association’s donation. … Eldridge told the News Service that the political contribution appears inappropriate even if the charter group also receives private donations – likening it to a public elementary school raising funds through a bake sale, which would do little to legitimize a political contribution from the school. The charter school association is a non-profit organization, which states on its website it advocates for charter schools, “repeatedly defeating negative legislation, protecting the charter school funding formula, and advocating to increase the state cap on charters.” …

Voting ‘No’ on Question 2: Keeping the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts
Source: Alexandra Griffin, The Williams Record, October 18, 2016

Massachusetts schools are a primary battleground for charter schools expansion this election year. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately run institutions. A binding referendum on the November 2016 ballot would modify the state cap on charter schools, currently set at 120, allowing up to 12 new charter schools to open per year. This could be devastating for Massachusetts public schools. … These stakeholders oppose the ballot initiative primarily because the expansion of charter schools would redirect millions of dollars per year away from public schools across the state. Charters are, at best, a shaky proposition. As Massachusetts state representative Paul Heroux has noted, the business-backed, pro-charter coalition of lobbyists has provided skewed data on the success of charter schools, relying heavily on parent satisfaction or student self-reports, which don’t provide comprehensive views of how a wide range of students are served — or under-served —  across different kinds of charter schools; they also cherry-pick successful charter schools and ignore failing ones. Lifting the cap on charter schools in the state is a reckless move that would endanger public schools across the state, forcing massive cuts in spending. A statewide commission recently found that Massachusetts public schools are already underfunded by one billion dollars. Even with the cap in place, it is projected that public schools in North Adams will lose $695,605 to charter schools in 2017. These numbers will increase exponentially if the cap is lifted. Lifting the cap on charter schools in the state would also open the door to further privatization of schools in Massachusetts …

Letter to the Editor: Yes on 2 will hurt local public schools
Source: David Wyman, Sentinel and Enterprise, October 17, 2016

If the Yes on 2 campaign wins, kids and communities lose. Charter schools are not about improving public education; they are about privatization, turning education into a business where our tax dollars go to wealthy investors instead of students. The Yes on 2 commercials, funded with dark money, make false claims. Charter schools are not public schools: There is no local control, no school committee and they do not accept every child. … The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects public school districts will lose $456,338,729 in fiscal 2017 to charter schools. So what happens if the cap is lifted? Increased class sizes as public schools are forced to cut teachers and paraprofessionals. Cuts to art and music programs that help students develop critical thinking and creative problem solving skills. And cuts to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. …

Massachusetts Is Ground Zero In Battle Over Charter Schools
Source: Alan Singer, Huffington Post, October 13, 2016

Massachusetts is probably the most liberal state in the United States and by many measures its public school system is also the best in the nation. According to the 2016 edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report Massachusetts schools received an overall grade of B+, no state received an A, and the national grade was C. The report grades states and schools on the opportunities students have for success from birth to adulthood, K-12 achievement, and equitable school funding. … Despite this record of educational excellence, charter school advocates supported by major foundations and hedge fund investors have made Massachusetts ground zero in their battle to dismantle public education in the United States.” Massachusetts Teachers Association President Barbara Madeloni charges “They have targeted Massachusetts with the idea that if they can win here, it makes the road to privatization across the country easier.” A binding referendum on the November 2016 ballot would lift the state cap on charter schools, currently set at 120. The referendum is being pushed by a business-backed coalition that is spending tens of millions of dollars on the campaign. Much of the money comes from out-of-state groups, including the Walmart Foundation, about $700,000, and something called Education Reform Now Advocacy (ERNA), whose Board of Directors has close ties to Wall Street financiers. According to filings with the state agency that monitors election spending, ERNA contributed over half a million dollars to Great Schools Massachusetts, the group pushing for passage of the charter referendum. Two other hedge-fund-connected organizations, Families for Excellent Schools and Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy kicked in more than $6 million in combined donations. …

More than $18M spent on charter school question TV ads
Source: Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, October 13, 2016

Supporters of a ballot question aimed at expanding the number of charter schools in Massachusetts have spent nearly twice as much on television ads as opponents. As of Monday, Great Schools Massachusetts, which backs the question, had spent nearly $12 million on broadcast television ads. That’s compared to about $6.5 million spent by the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, which opposes Question 2. The groups have spent a combined $18.4 million on television ads, according to data from the Center for Public Integrity. … Even though they spent nearly twice as much as opponents, the ads from Great Schools Massachusetts have actually run fewer times — about 2,800 times — than ads from the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, which have run nearly 3,000 times. While both groups are advertising in the Boston, Providence, Rhode Island, and Springfield, Massachusetts, markets, most of the money was spent on the Boston ads for both groups. One reason why Great Schools Massachusetts has spent more to have their ads run less often appears to be that the group is focusing more on the big networks instead of the smaller channels. Another factor is the time of day, with Great Schools Massachusetts running more ads in prime time.

Massachusetts Teachers Unions Battle the Dark Money Behind a Pro-Charter Ballot Measure
Source: Justin Miller, In These Times, October 7, 2016

Millions of dollars of dark money are streaming into Massachusetts as charter school proponents try to pass Question 2, a contentious ballot measure that would raise the state’s existing cap on charter schools. Teachers unions are scrambling to fight back against what they say is a heavy-handed attempt to dramatically expand public charters while hanging underfunded, traditional public schools out to dry. Such fights are playing out across the country as the well-funded charter school network has turned its sights—and its millions—on state and local education politics. But Massachusetts, with its strict cap and accountability measures for charters, coupled with a rich tradition of public education, has long been the crown jewel for charter backers. … All told, ballot committees supporting the measure have raised more than $15 million, with supporters having pledged to spend as much as $18 million by Election Day. Big donors include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who gave $240,000, and Jim and Alice Walton, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, who gave $1.1 million and $700,000 respectively. As The Boston Globe reports, several top financial executives in Boston, including from Mitt Romney’s former employer Bain Capital, have pumped hundreds of thousands into the campaign as well. The vast majority of money behind the campaign is funneled through dark-money groups that are not required to disclose their donors. The primary vehicle for that money is Great Schools Massachusetts, which has raised some $12 million so far, according to the latest state campaign finance reports. As the reports show, that money has been used to soak the state with television ads that make what opponents say are inaccurate claims, like that lifting the cap would bring more money to public schools and asserting that the measure would only impact “low-performing” districts, not suburban schools. The committee’s main funder is a New York-based non-profit called Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy (FES), which has contributed more than $8 million, including some $3 million over the past month, according to the latest state campaign-finance filings. … The seemingly orchestrated influx of millions of dollars has the teachers unions and their allies on their heels. The latest poll, released Wednesday, found that 47 percent of likely voters plan to vote against the measure while 36 percent favor it. Reaching the 18 percent who said they were undecided will be a crucial task for the teachers unions. …

Judge tosses lawsuit on charter school cap
Source: Kathleen McKiernan, Boston Herald, October 5, 2016

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit that questioned the constitutionality of the state’s charter school cap, leaving limits in place at least until voters have their say on Question 2 next month. The class-action lawsuit filed last September on behalf of five Boston students said they were denied access to a quality education due to the state’s cap on charter schools. The students had to attend Boston Public Schools after not winning seats into charters through the lottery system.

Elizabeth Warren comes out against raising cap on charter schools in Massachusetts
Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, September 27, 2016

There is a pitched battle underway in Massachusetts over charter schools, with proponents pouring money into an initiative on the November ballot that would raise the state cap on their growth and opponents arguing that charters are draining resources from traditional public schools. Now critics have gotten a big boost: Sen. Elizabeth Warren said she was going to vote against Question 2. Warren, who has been viewed somewhat warily by many public-education activists because of her past support for charter schools, now says she does not support unfettered charter growth in Massachusetts because local school districts can be harmed. Just a few weeks ago, local media noted that Warren, highly popular in Massachusetts, had not declared her position on the charter cap. … Warren released a statement to the Boston Globe that said:

“I will be voting no on Question 2. Many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools. But after hearing more from both sides, I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind. I hope that the Legislature, the teachers, and the parents can come together to find ways to make sure all kids in Massachusetts get a first-rate education without pitting groups against each other.”

MA schools may be battle in wider fight for profit & privatization agendas
Source: Jule Pattison-Gordon, Bay State Banner, September 22, 2016

Charter expansion in Massachusetts appears to be part of a national movement, fueled, in part, by hedge funds, corporations and wealthy philanthropists. Some professors see a profit motive for those with ties to school-related businesses such real estate and material supplies, as well as the lucrative charter network administration businesses and education consulting services. Others regard the push for charter expansion as one front of a larger ideological battle to tamp down on government and unions and turn over public services to private, free market offerings. …

Report: Charter enrollment increases spending in traditional schools
Source: Amelia Pak-Harvey, Lowell Sun, September 21, 2016

Adding more national attention to the statewide fight over charter schools, a new report from a conservative New York-based think tank concludes that charter-school enrollment actually increases per-pupil spending for traditional school districts. Ballot Question 2, which would allow for up to 12 charter schools or expansions every year, has drawn a heated battle that’s racked up over $18 million in spending from both proponents and opponents combined. … Opponents of the measure, which include the Save Our Public Schools campaign, argue that charter schools take money away from traditional school districts. Sending districts are reimbursed through a complex formula in which money for each student follows a child to their charter school. Yet, a new Manhattan Institute report contends that while charter-school enrollment reduces the net amount of Chapter 70 state aid that districts receive, it increases per-pupil spending in the 10 districts with the largest number of charter-school students. … But after the state’s “unique reimbursement” — which he argued was one of the most generous reimbursement plans in the nation — districts are getting paid a significant amount of money for students they no longer teach. … The report hits at an argument that bolsters the pro-charter school stance — that districts keep getting paid for a student that’s simply not there. The state reimburses the full cost of a student’s tuition by 100 percent the first year the student leaves, and 25 percent for five years after that. Those reimbursements aren’t always fully funded. Even so, Eden said, it still causes an increase in the per-pupil amount. The report uses fiscal 2016 numbers from the Massachusetts Teachers Association website that detail charter-school payments and the number of children sent to charter schools, according to Eden. That analysis includes Lowell, which had 1,490 charter-school students in fiscal 2016. After state reimbursement, the district paid roughly $14.8 million in charter-school costs. In fiscal 2017, Lowell is projected to pay nearly $17 million. …

Out-of-state donors spend big on Mass. ballot questions
Source: Todd Feathers, Lowell Sun, September 20, 2016

Out-of-state donors have spent nearly twice as much to influence Massachusetts’s upcoming ballot measures as in-state donors have, according to recently released campaign finance reports. Groups vying over Question 2 — which asks voters if the cap on the number of charter schools should be raised — are leading the spending spree. Groups both in favor and against raising the cap have raised a combined $18.3 million in 2016, with $11 million of the total coming from outside Massachusetts. One New York-based nonprofit, Families for Excellent Schools, contributed nearly $6 million to the pro-charter group Great Schools Massachusetts. … Charter-school proponents through September outraised and outspent their opponents by nearly 2-to-1. Where that money really came from is hard to ascertain, though. … Great Schools Massachusetts must disclose, for example, that it received nearly $6 million from Families for Excellent Schools, the New York nonprofit that is the single largest contributor so far in this campaign cycle. But Families for Excellent Schools, which was founded by several Wall Street hedge-fund managers, is not required to disclose the source of its money in most situations. Other donors have no qualms about publicizing their advocacy. Jim Walton, the son of Walmart founder Sam Walton, and his wife, Alice, donated a combined $1.8 million to the charter-school effort. On the other side of that issue, teachers unions are responsible for almost all the money donated to the anti-charter group Save Our Public Schools. The Massachusetts Teachers Association contributed $4.6 million in 2016, followed by the National Education Association with $1.9 million. …

Should Mass. Expand Charter Schools? A Look At Ballot Question 2
Source: Tonya Mosley, WBUR, September 13, 2016

Question 2 on the November ballot will ask voters if they support giving Massachusetts the authority to lift the cap on charter schools. As it stands, no more than 120 charter schools are allowed to operate in the state; there are currently 78 active charters. A “Yes” vote on Question 2 would give the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year. … In a WBUR poll of likely voters, 48 percent said they would vote against lifting the cap, while 41 percent would vote for it, and 11 percent said they did not know or were undecided. The same poll found that 46 percent think charters drain money from district schools, 38 percent don’t think so, and 15 percent are undecided. …

The Great Charter Schools Debate
Source: Rachel Slade, Boston Magazine, September 2016

In November, Massachusetts voters will decide whether the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) can raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed, or increase enrollment in existing charters in underperforming districts. If the referendum is approved, the city of Boston—which currently has 27 Commonwealth charter schools that operate independently of the district and educate about 14 percent of the student population—will likely see an increase in charters over the next several years. …

Charter School expansion debate continues
Source: Tamara Sacharczyk, WWLP, August 17, 2016

The charter school debate continues to heat up in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Democratic Party voted on Tuesday to oppose a ballot question in November that would expand the state’s charter school cap. Charter schools are publicly funded, but separate from public schools. Some members of the Massachusetts Democratic Party argue if enough students’ leaves a public school for a charter school, a chunk of that school district’s funding will eventually go with them. … Question 2 on November’s ballot would expand that cap, by allowing 12 more charter schools to open, or current schools to expand. Several charter schools have already asked the state for expansions in recent weeks. Here in western Massachusetts, the Collegiate Charter School of the Pioneer Valley applied to start a new charter school for 870 students, and the Hampden Charter School of Science requested to open another school for 560 students. … Several lawmakers at the statehouse are in favor of the November ballot question to expand charter schools, including Governor Charlie Baker. The governor has said charter schools give students and parents more options, and potentially, a better education. …

November ballot question: Lifting the charter school cap
Source: Frank Conte, New Boston Post, July 28, 2016

The most popular governor in the United States wasn’t going to let a mid-July downpour on the State House steps dampen the launch of ballot campaign to lift the state’s charter school cap. Spending down some of the political capital he’s accrued over the last two years, Governor Charlie Baker announced his support for a measure that will potentially increase annually the number of charter schools by 12. … If approved by the voters in November, the ballot question certified by the Massachusetts Attorney General will allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve up to 12 new charter schools each year. Should the board receive applications from more than that number, districts with student performance in the bottom 25 percent of state assessments and strong popular demand will be given preference. In reality, charter school advocates — given the economics and logistics — think only two or three new schools will be approved by the board each year. But teacher union resistance can be overwhelming, even if the changes are small. …

Senate President: Charter school bill all but dead
Source: Associated Press, June 20, 2016

Hopes for a bill aimed at heading off a proposed charter school ballot question appear all but dead on Beacon Hill. Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg told reporters Monday that discussions between the Massachusetts House and Senate on the bill have come to a “dead stop.” … The Senate in April approved a bill aimed at allowing more charters in districts serving at-risk students while largely maintaining the statewide charter school cap. The House hasn’t acted on the bill. The proposed ballot question would add up to a dozen new or expanded charters each year outside of existing state caps.

Gov Baker Proposes Bill To Allow More Charter Schools
Source: Paul Tuthill, WAMC, October 8, 2015

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker announced legislation Thursday to lift a cap on charter schools.  The bill  Baker plans to file would add up to 12 new or expanded charter schools a year with a preference in low performing school districts. His legislation is similar to a ballot measure proposed by a coalition of charter school advocates. Spokesperson Josiane Martinez said the group needs to collect 65,000 signatures to get the question on the 2016 ballot.