Terry Kwan of Brookline, along with other question 2 opponents, hold signs in Coolidge Corner. Source: (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

The number of charter schools in the US has increased by six percent over the past five years, nearing 7,000 as of the end of 2014. This being said, it is not unreasonable that the Massachusetts question 2 is on the ballot for the November 8 election.

Question 2 in Massachusett has been highly controversial. If you are unfamiliar with the question, it is as follows: Question 2 would give the state Board of elementary and Secondary Education the authority to approve 12 new charter schools [or to expand existing charter schools as a result of increased enrollment each year beginning on January 1, 2017]. To vote yes would support this proposal, which would authorize up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions. To vote no would oppose the proposal to authorize up to 12 new charter schools, or keep enrollment guidelines as is.

Charter schools have been an increasingly important topic in the subject of education for quite a few years now. To understand more about them and how they operate, I highly recommend watching the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” Released in 2010, the documentary is a bit biased as it primarily criticizes the American public education system while it follows multiple students and their high hopes for acceptance into a charter school. However, the documentary examines the teaching of charter schools in an important way; by examining how they operate with their different restrictions and more experimental approaches. It does highlight the many important and successful routes that charter schools take in comparison to public schools.

The point of a charter school is for the “charter” (authorizing agency) to be able to operate the school with a significant amount of autonomy to pursue specific educational objectives – objectives that they believe are more important than are currently exercised in public school systems. Since the charter schools are normally not publicly funded, they primarily operate on a lottery system. Some believe that the downside to the lottery is that since charter schools are privately funded, they do not have discrimination rules, so there are no demographic requirements.

Typically, those who attend charter schools are striving for a better education than the public school system in their area of residence. As shown in “Waiting For Superman,” the lottery system is very competitive and leads to a highly emotional situation. The stakes are so high because students know the result of attending a charter school – children tend to perform phenomenally, and doors that they never would have imagined open for them. However, a criticism of the lottery is that students are only eligible for the lottery if they fill out an application. This automatically puts some students at a disadvantage because the application is not always able to be filled out by parents for multiple reasons. The lottery is intended to be fair – but the education is therefore not open to everyone due to the application process.

Those who endorse a “yes” vote on question 2 will argue that Massachusetts will continue to be a leader in public education and thus expand public charter schools in communities that need them (places like Boston). Others who oppose question 2 argue that it would take funding away from the public schools in that area. Therefore, public schools will become destabilized, and therefore have to make cuts. In low-income areas that have tight public school budgets where every penny counts, how will a yes or no on question 2 affect them? Their already poor public school system may become even less funded when their funding then goes to charter schools, which they are likely to not be able to attend due to the lottery system. This goes on to create a further disparity between the children who attend public schools and those that are lucky enough to attend a charter school.

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