Public schools across the state, including in New Bedford, are in the fight of their lives to secure the funding they need to meet the needs of every student who comes through our doors.
The Legislature’s formal session ended July 31 with lawmakers failing to pass any legislation that would have addressed the major shortcomings in education funding identified by the Foundation Budget Review commission.In 2015, the FBRC determined that public schools in Massachusetts were underfunded by about $1 billion annually — and that amount would just meet students’ basic needs.
In June, the state’s highest court ruled that a proposed ballot amendment seeking a surtax on annual income above $1 million, which would have raised revenue for public education and transportation, would not go before the voters this November. The Supreme Judicial Court came to this decision even after the Fair Share Amendment had already passed muster twice in constitutional conventions with lawmakers and separately with the state Attorney General’s office. The SJC’s unfortunate ruling effectively wiped out the possibility of raising much-needed revenue for public schools and colleges.
Against this backdrop, it would seem completely ludicrous to propose a massive expansion in the number of charter school seats here in New Bedford. As was demonstrated during the 2016 campaign to keep the cap on charter schools, voters do not want hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned away from students attending district public schools every year in order to fund charter schools — which do not even attempt to meet the needs of every student.
Yet charter operators are descending upon New Bedford with proposals to double the number of charter-school seats in the city. If such an expansion were to occur, the impact on students attending district schools would be devastating.
Alma Del Mar Charter School is asking state education officials to allow it to increase enrollment by 1,180 students. The New Bedford Cheironeum is back again hoping to open a new charter school with 1,008 seats, and Global Learning, which has twice been denied expansion requests, wants to increase its enrollment by 100 seats.
The city’s three existing charter schools, plus three charter schools nearby, enroll 1,175 students who live in New Bedford. New Bedford’s overall expenses for these privately run charter schools is $14.6 million after a state reimbursement of $1.29 million.
Alma Del Mar, which Mayor Jon Mitchell recently characterized as “not a constructive partner with the school district,” and the Cheironeum are effectively asking the state to double the tuition dollars flowing from the public schools to private interests.
This is not right, and it cannot happen.
As a community, we must pull together and convince lawmakers that every student deserves the opportunity to thrive. To make that possible, the Commonwealth needs to fully fund the public schools that welcome every student.