Thursday, October 22, 2009

On saying 'no' to Race to the Top

One of the questions posed at last night's School Committee forum was "Yes or no: do you support Massachusetts applying for Race to the Top funding?"
(and, yes, Jordan Levy held us all to one word!)

Here's why I said no (and why you shouldn't sign any petition urging the passage of H.4163, 4164, or 4166):

In order for any child to get into a charter school in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, his parents have to put his name into a lottery. That takes time, effort, and knowledge. It takes, in short, the kind of parental involvement that is rightful lauded as being the single most important factor in a child's educational success.

What happens when you have an entire school of involved parents?
Kids succeed.
Or do they? Results on charters are mixed (you can look at the chart on MCAS scores for Worcester, if you like), much more so than one would like to see in such a self-selecting population. As covered in the T&G earlier this month, Worcester charters, while having a good economic cross-section of students, don't have the same distribution of special education and other students need special services.

H. 4163, if passed, would allow for a lifting of the cap on charters in Worcester. Why should you care?

It'll cost us millions of dollars.
At a time when the Worcester Public Schools are already facing a $26 million shortfall for next year, opening any new charter school would cost approximately $3 million. Only a small portion of that would come from the state, as no provision is made under any of these bills to change the way that charters are funded. There also is no provision in these bills to change the allocation of students to have it reflect the community in which the charter school is set up.

But, wait! you say. Wasn't this all about that Race to the Top money? Four billion dollars from the federal government?

At the end of the day, yes, 'though the governor was proposing readiness schools in the spring. That $4 billion is very tempting in tough budgetary times. Why should we say no?
  1. It reverses a hard-fought, exhaustively argued LOCAL decision made by the state legislature. Yes, they can decide otherwise, but the charter cap was put in place because of very real state concerns, none of which are changed by RTTT.
  2. It's a two year grant. In 2012, if these bills pass, we've got multiple new charter schools, and we're right back to the same place on funding.
  3. We might not get the money. Yes, perhaps the governor is close to the president. Maybe Secretary Duncan does want to give Massachusetts money. Or maybe the federal government really isn't happy with how Massachusetts has spent the federal money it's already gotten and doesn't want to give us more. It's a several million dollar gamble.
This also doesn't solve the real, ongoing problem once the focus of some educational advocacy groups, for real education funding reform. We're taking our eye off the ball, here, guys. Scrambling after two year money that costs us more in the long run is no way to run the Massachusetts educational system.
We know better than this.
At least, I hope we do.

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