Auchincloss: Choice in education helps fulfill the American promise

This op-ed originally appeared in the Newton Tab

The American promise is that the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life.

Much of our history is the struggle to make good on that promise for those who were left out of the 18th century social contract: women, immigrants, African-Americans, those with disabilities and those without inherited wealth, among many others. It is a good struggle. As an American, I am proud of the American promise; as a Democrat, I am proud of my party for protecting it during this election season.

Protecting the American promise is not enough, however. Each generation must advance it. I believe the next major advancement will not hinge upon identity as a condition of birth but rather upon location as a condition of birth. Right now, the data is inescapable: our childhood ZIP Codes do, in large measure, determine the outcomes of our lives. That is un-American.

Choice in education brings high-performing schools to low-income cities. Ballot Question 2 would advance choice in education by allowing Massachusetts education officials to approve up to 12 new charter schools per year, bringing high-performing schools to cities like New Bedford and Holyoke. Randomized controlled trials – the gold standard of science – have confirmed that Bay State charter schools, which have no selection bias in admissions, improve outcomes for low-income students relative to district schools. They drive social mobility by making location less important as a condition of birth.

Many critics cede that the Commonwealth’s charter schools are indeed national models, but that the funding formula must be fixed in order to maintain district schools. This is a sidestep. For one, districts receive additional state aid for six years after a student transfers to a charter school, so that they can amortize fixed costs less disruptively. And, the respected Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation finds zero evidence that school districts “are suffering a loss of support, or that the per-student funding of districts is trending negatively” because of charter schools.

More fundamentally, though, the fixation on the funding formula implies that state aid should target certain schools. State aid should target student achievement, wherever it is manifest.

My parents would never have allowed the quality of my education to be subject to the whims of a ballot measure. They had the means to move to Newton when I was born, and I had the privilege of attending world-class schools. Hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens, however, do not have the means to move to Newton, and so their children will not share my privilege. Our ZIP Codes will determine different outcomes for our lives. Yes on 2 helps Massachusetts solve that injustice, so we can make another stride towards the American promise.

Jake Auchincloss is a councilor at-large in Ward 2