Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Testimony before the Joint Committee on Education:Charter schools

Madame Chairs, Members of the Committee,

My name is Tracy O’Connell Novick and I live in Worcester, where I serve on the Worcester School Committee.
There continues to be a great gap between the realities on the ground about charter schools and a few of the bills that are before you today, to say nothing of what I can only term propaganda of those proposing to entirely lift the cap on charters.
The facts on the ground are these: charter schools do not, and never have, served all students. The Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, which was to force charters to reflect their sending districts, has not been enforced. We continue to see charter schools, including the three in Worcester, that serve fewer children in poverty, fewer children learning English, fewer children with special education needs (and no children with significant special education needs), and fewer of our neediest children. We continue to see children with involved parents (as they have to be; there is no other way to get in) be taken, while those who do not have parents who can spare the time are not in charters. We continue, in short, to see a concentration of the highest need students in our public schools.
It is thus a lie--a bold faced lie--to propose charters as somehow a system that will “close” the achievement gap. We don’t, in fact, have an achievement gap: the research clearly shows that we have an opportunity gap. Much of the difference between and among children is established long before they reach the doors of the schools, and in many cases, the difference is made by choices of involved parents, parents who make all the difference in the educational outcomes of their children.
I thus urge you to reject out of hand Senate Bill 235 and House Bill 425, which is simply a continuation of the effort to further privatize the public resource of education, to undercut our teaching staff, and to further divide communities. We in Massachusetts are smarter than this, and this is not the way to improve public education.

As one who has frequently addressed your committee before, I am pleased to see on many other fronts that the concerns of myself and others have been recognized and would be addressed by several of the bills before you today. I would urge you to recommend these bills for adoption by the larger body.
Just last week, in his budget memo to our superintendent, Worcester City Manager O’Brien cited among the “host of changes that are beyond the control of my administration” charter school reimbursement. Because charter schools can put forward a number of pupils they think they may have, charter reimbursement changes once the real numbers are reported in the fall. Thus in November, either the school system or the city must revise its budget. It has happened year after year in Worcester, and the charter schools are not held to account for the numbers they make up. It is our community that pays the price. I would therefore recommend adoption of Senate Bill 240, which requires reporting of actual numbers in April of the previous year, and Senate Bill 222, which pegs charter schools the same way the rest of the districts are counted: by the previous year. Make it standard.
Further, to require, as Senate Bills 212, 258, and House Bill 491, that any new charters be approved by the school committee or funded by the state keeps the approval of new programs and the responsibility of funding them together. If the community wants a charter school, the funding moves forward as for any school. If the state approves a charter, so be it; the state must fund it.
It is this breakdown between approval and funding that is causing the most harm currently to Worcester and to other districts. Again this year, the Board of Education has approved additional charter schools. Again this year, the Legislature has level-funded the charter account. The pie is the same size; it must be divided into even more pieces. Charter reimbursement, as required under the Act Relative to the Achievement Gap, is therefore this year being funded at just 68.5%. For the Worcester Public Schools, this is $1.68 million that we are legally required to be reimbursed by the state, that we know we will not see. Frankly, I find this outrageous.
The circumstances were the same in New Hampshire last year. Reasonably, the brakes were put on further expansion of charter schools unless and until the funding was worked out. I beg you, therefore, before we go another year on this: pass Senate Bill 257 and House Bill 372. Put a moratorium in place on further expansion. As a state, we cannot pay for the charter schools we have; how dare anyone claim we should add more? It is fiscally irresponsible to expand programs that we already are not funding. End the sapping of funds away from our classrooms that serve all students, Let’s be responsible about this.
Thank you.

No comments: