Lessons from the Massachusetts Charter School Expansion Campaign | National Education Policy Center

BOULDER, CO (March 14, 2017) – In the November 2016 election, voters in Massachusetts decisively defeated a referendum that would have significantly increased the number of charter schools in the state. Early polls had “Yes” with a sizable lead, and the Yes side had a considerable financial advantage—$24 million versus $14 million—in the most expensive ballot question in state history.

In What We Can Learn from the Massachusetts Ballot Question Campaign on Charter School Expansion, University of Massachusetts Boston professor Lawrence Blum discusses lessons from the Massachusetts campaign and its results—lessons that might inform the debate around future pushes for expansion of charter schools and other market-based reforms.

Professor Blum explains that while the charter expansion advocates supporting “Question 2” on the state ballot argued that charters were necessary for equity, the No side countered that charter schools drained resources from the larger public system. These opponents further contended that only by improving the public school system could we ensure that no students are written off and that equity is served. Opposition by the NAACP and influential local black leaders challenged the Yes side’s familiar narrative that black parents overwhelmingly favor charter schools.

Moreover, while charter expansion advocates outspent their opponents, the No side had many more local people involved, as part of an impressive grassroots ground operation, with organizing by teachers and their unions, by parents, and by students. Communications from the No side also successfully connected charter school expansion to “dark money” and to a market-based ideological agenda.

Acknowledging the localized elements of this campaign, it nevertheless holds possible lessons about the fault lines of the charter school debate and about how the public may be willing to respond to the Trump administration’s likely efforts to expand taxpayer support of privately run schools.

Find What We Can Learn from the Massachusetts Ballot Question Campaign on Charter School Expansion, by Lawrence Blum, on the web at: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/ma-charter

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: http://nepc.colorado.edu


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