Boston Teachers Union Calls on Lawmakers: Keep Caps on Charter Schools
BOSTON/State House - The Boston Teachers Union called on lawmakers Tuesday to keep limits on the number of charter schools in the Bay State.
Addressing an audience at the State House, the union joined with members of the Boston Area Youth Organizing Project in support of the public school system over charter schools, which would rise in number if state caps are lifted.
The current number of charter schools is limited by a number of caps on budgets and student enrollment numbers in the Commonwealth, but removing some of the caps is currently being debated by the legislature.
At the press conference BTU President, Richard Stutman hit out at charter schools saying they, “do not educate all students, they do not provide equal access, most discriminate against special education students, and limited-English proficient students, most evict students at critical times during their career … they propagate a dual system of schools.”
Speaking by phone before the press conference on behalf of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, Dominic Slowey told Open Media Boston, “what they’ve (the public schools-advocates) said right along, that we push kids out, that we don’t take kids who have high needs, we don’t take [English Language Learner] kids and everything else, and there are some statistics … taken right from the Department of Education website that show that that’s not true.”
At the core of the issue, there is only so much money in the budget for education in the Bay State, and now public schools are facing increasing competition from charter schools for limited resources. On top of that, public school-advocates say that charter schools do not provide equal access for students with disabilities, or who are English Language Learners, whereas the likes of the Boston Public Schools are open to all. Charter advocates on the other hand refute those claims, and say that their schools are showing good results.
“Our schools, I’m proud to say welcome all students … it’s our obligation, and we want it no other way; our schools have welcome mats in their front halls not a revolving door,” said Stutman, “there are insufficient resources to go around, every dollar spent in expanding charter schools for a few, or for those who are cherry-picked, is a dollar less spent for those who are enrolled in our public schools.”
According to Slowey, “some of our Boston charters are ranked number one in the whole state, so you have a very high percentage of urban kids … there are a very high percentage of African-American kids in the charters, a very high percentage of low income, and high need-kids, and those are the kids that are generally failing in district schools, and yet the charters have somehow created a formula that works, and puts these kids at the top of the charts statewide.”
Also speaking at the press conference, public education advocate Karen Kast-McBride, told the audience about her experience of attempting to enroll her three children – all of whom have special needs – in a charter school.
She said, “because my children are so bright, they’ve actually been asked by charters to come and look into joining the school, and until they found out that my children have special needs they encouraged us to go through the process, as soon as they found out my children have special needs – and let me be very clear, my children’s special needs are very minimal, they are outside of the classroom less than ten per cent of the school day – and they decided that I no longer had to complete these applications, so that gives you an idea of what a parent goes through when they look at charter schools.”
According to Slowey, charter schools are, “based on a philosophy that every child can succeed no matter [the] obstacles … income level, or family problems, or any of the other obstacles that face kids today, especially in urban centers, and so the charters create an environment in the classroom that’s conducive to learning.
“Most of the charters have very young, very idealistic teachers, and a lot of them are from Teach for America, they’re very driven by a mission of unlocking the potential of these kids and that is borne out in the academic performance that various studies have shown that the charters, especially in Boston are not only outperforming the district schools, but they’re outperforming schools in affluent suburban districts.”
At issue also is the question of how teachers’ unions, like the BTU, are impacted by the growing number of – mostly non-union – charter schools.
After the press conference, Stutman, told Open Media Boston that while charter schools allow teachers to be unionized, he described it as “like pulling teeth,” and citing failed local attempts to unionize in schools, he said it’s “virtually impossible.”
“The [American Federation of Teachers] has tried numerous times, and will continue to try but until there are some significant changes I think it’ll continue to be difficult,” he said, “I think one of the guiding principles of those who really like charter schools is at some point to be able to nullify the effect of unions, and given the way things are going they may have some success at that, and it’ll be a tug of war going forward, so this is not going to be an easy fight.”
The press conference also was addressed by Boston City Councilor and mayoral candidate Charles Yancey, and Representative Carlos Henriquez (D-Dorchester). It came after a meeting of charter school advocates at the Pioneer Institute earlier that day, and was followed by a student-led rally outside the State House attended by about 60 supporters.
Asked whether the BTU and the public school system can co-exist with the charter schools, Stutman said that they can, “to a point.”
“…there’s no question these people, they’re here to stay, so are we, and hopefully we’ll find a way to deal with each other,” he said.