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Massachusetts: Stripping the Mask from Corporate Reformers

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Last week’s election was both a victory and a defeat for corporate education reform. On one hand, Donald Trump won with a strong commitment to school choice and privatization, which is the highest goal of corporate reformers. He will very likely appoint a Supreme Court justice (or justices) hostile to unions, another priority of the so-called reformers. Maybe now, they can give up their pretense of being Democrats and hail the new regime in D.C.

On the other hand, voters in two very different states–Massachusetts and Georgia–were asked if they wanted to “improve” their schools by turning them over to the charter industry, and both states answered with a resounding NO.

In Georgia, despite a deceptively worded constitutional amendment, a bipartisan majority voted 60-40 against allowing the governor to create a special district where low-scoring schools could be converted to charters.

In Massachusetts, the corporate financiers bundled $26 million, mostly from out of state donors, to promote Question 2, which would add 12 new charters every year. The advertising campaign tried to sell Question 2 as a civil rights issue. They promised it would not defund public schools. They swore it was only “for the kids.” Question 2 lost overwhelmingly by 68-32%. Two-thirds of the voters did not believe the promises.

Here is the big news: The largest vote against charters in the Massachusetts vote came in communities that already had charters. The voters knew that charters were taking money from their public schools. They didn’t like what charters were doing to their communities.

“Almost all of the fiercest Question 2 opponents were cities and towns whose public schools are losing money to charter schools.

“Easthampton topped all Massachusetts municipalities in the strength of its opposition — 76.2 percent voted ” No,” or 7,324 against 2,290 “Yes” votes — and that city will lose $940,000 to its charter school, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, in fiscal 2016.

“It comes right off the top,” Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux said Thursday. “If you’re saying it doesn’t cost us anything, then you need to explain why I’m $940,000 short.”

“Hadley and South Hadley also followed the pattern, voting “no” to the tune of 73.7 and 68.9 percent. South Hadley contains Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and Hadley houses Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

“Despite being located in Eastern Massachusetts, where opposition to Question 2 was not as high as in the rest of the state, Somerville also voted strongly against Question 2, with 71.2 percent of voters opposed. The city houses Prospect Hill Academy Charter School.

“Greenfield, where Four Rivers Charter Public School makes its home, voted against Question 2 by 71 percent. In Holyoke, which contains Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School, 66 percent opposed.”

Despite the millions of dollars in Dark Money, despite the big buy on television, despite the civil rights rhetoric, Question 2 was rejected.

The best part of this election, other than the victory of public education, was that opponents of Question 2 were fully informed about the threat that privatization posed to public education in General and to their public schools in particular. Only a handful of affluent districts supported the measure. The rest understood that they were repelling an existential threat to a democratic institution that belongs to their community: their public schools.

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