My Turn/Blixt: The charter problem

Charter schools take funds from local districts, taxpayers should have say


Published: 5/6/2016 5:47:39 PM

As the statewide debate over the expansion of charter schools continues and November’s ballot question to lift the existing cap on charter schools looms, it’s important to consider the impact of charter schools on Greenfield.

This year alone, charter schools will siphon off $1,037,229 in funds that would otherwise stay in the Greenfield Public Schools, and be used to improve learning for all students. For students, this funding loss means larger class sizes, fewer enrichment courses such as music, art and athletics, and other damaging cutbacks.

Our public schools are clearly already being forced to operate with budgetary tolerances that are almost ridiculous. Reports are that Mayor Martin is now trying to peel $250,000 away from the budget approved by the school committee. “There are lots of areas in there to shave it down,” he is enigmatically reported to have said.

A shave? Seriously? When our schools have already been cut so close to the bone?

We shouldn’t be surprised that after years of such “shaving,” our local schools are failing to meet the needs of many of our students. A recent report by a school budget review commission found that Massachusetts is underfunding public education by at least $1 billion a year. The ability of our schools to provide students with more opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, and enrichment programs such as music, art and athletics, is already threatened. And now, charter schools are taking more than $400 million in funds each year from our local school districts.

Many studies have shown that early education is the most effective way to ensure a child’s success later in life, but only 33 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children in Greenfield are enrolled in an early education program. Statewide, Massachusetts has over 16,000 children on waiting lists for preschool programs. At the very least, we should provide access to preschool and early learning programs for every child instead of giving money to more unaccountable charter schools.

Part of the problem is that the state approves charter schools even when the communities where they will be located are opposed to them. This has happened in Brockton, Gloucester, and many other communities. Charter schools are not accountable to the local taxpayers who have to pay for them or the communities they serve. That’s wrong. Parents and taxpayers in Greenfield should have the final say on what kind of schools we want.

A report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, released last month, found that 60 percent of charter schools in Massachusetts don’t have a single parent on their boards of trustees.

Clearly, some of our schools are struggling, particularly in our urban areas. We should be committed to fixing them, and not keep taking money away and giving it to charters that accept fewer English-language learners and kids with significant special needs. Expanding a two-track system of separate and unequal schools, where students with the most challenges remain in local district schools with fewer and fewer resources, is not consistent with our Massachusetts values.

The ballot question will allow charters to expand into areas where they don’t exist right now — anywhere in the state — taking millions away from successful neighborhood public schools and causing the elimination of programs, increases in class sizes, and other damaging cuts in the schools that most families choose. In Greenfield, allowing charter schools to take more money away from our public school system will only hurt the majority of students. We need to fully fund our public school system before we consider spending more money on charter schools.

Wesley Blixt is a Greenfield resident.


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.

Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261


Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy