This op-ed originally appeared in The Eagle-Tribune.
It’s said that a great public education is the foundation of opportunity – and this November, voters will have an opportunity of their own: to give real choice and real opportunity to parents in low-performing school districts by expanding access to public charter schools in Massachusetts.
Certainly, Lawrence public schools have made progress since they were put into state receivership a few years ago – as district schools begin to make the difficult climb out of Level 5 or 4 status, according to the latest state data. But progress is uneven – and for 1,607 kids in Lawrence stuck on a wait list for public charters, it isn’t coming quickly enough.
Take a student like Gigi Garcia. It wasn’t that long ago that high school graduation seemed an impossible dream for Gigi. Raised by her grandmother in Puerto Rico, she moved to Lawrence and quickly found herself adrift in the city’s large district schools. “I didn’t care about my classes,” Gigi candidly admits today.
Despite her challenges—including a temporary stay in foster care—it was because she was able to attend a public charter here in Lawrence that she had the opportunity to turn her life around. At Phoenix Charter Academy, Gigi received the support of teachers who constantly checked in to make sure she was succeeding in the classroom and improving with her English. As a result, she not only graduated from high school this spring but also has plans to enroll in a pre-nursing program with the goal of becoming a registered nurse this fall.
Young people like Gigi inspire us because they refuse to give up. But too often, district schools in urban areas give up on them – particularly if they are poor Latinos or African-Americans. Indeed, in Lawrence, where nearly a third of the public school children have limited English skills and nine in 10 are low-income, fewer than half can read at grade level. A third of kids never make it to graduation. That’s the reality that was awaiting Gigi Garcia if she hadn’t made it to Phoenix – and it’s the reality facing many of the 33,000 kids across the Commonwealth waiting for access to a public charter.
How big of a difference can a public charter school make? Well, independent study after independent study has shown that Massachusetts has the very best public charter schools in the country – the result of longer school days and more individualized instruction. Indeed, one study by Stanford’s CREDO institute found that students who attend Massachusetts charters every year gain an additional month and a half of reading learning and two and a half months of math compared to district school students.
Additionally, opening new public charter schools has led to an increase of more than $236 million in state aid for public education over the last five years, including more than $41 million in FY15. Put simply, public charters are not only good for students — they’re good for our education system as a whole.
Impressive results and increased funding are two reasons why I and so many others have been pushing to lift the cap on public charters. And it’s why I’ll be voting Yes on Question 2 this November.
For Massachusetts voters, the choice this fall is clear. The time has come to give more kids like Gigi the chance to attend a great public school — and to give more communities like Lawrence the opportunity to accelerate the progress we are making for all our children.
Frank Moran represents the 17th Essex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.