Archive 2008 - 2019

Charter Schools Explained

by Shane Dunn

On November 8, Massachusetts voters will go to the polls to not only elect our next president, but also to vote on whether to lift the arbitrary cap on charter schools. Last Saturday, I had the privilege of sharing facts about public charter schools and Question 2 with the Holliston Democratic Town Committee during its monthly meeting.

During the 90-minute conversation, I found that many committee members did not fully understand the current state of charter schools in Massachusetts and were hearing misconceptions being shared by the No on 2 campaign. Excellent questions were asked about charters’ enrollment of students with special needs, governance models, funding, accountability, and student performance, among other topics. I also underscored how passing Question 2 will not impact Holliston or nearly any other non-urban community in Massachusetts.

I want to lay out some of the facts about charter schools and clarify some of the points made in Bill Dooling’s piece from September 28 (

Here are some real facts about public charter schools and Question 2 that I hope will lead you to vote yes on November 8:

In Massachusetts, education funding is assigned to a student, not to a school. So when a student opts for a public charter school, the money to educate that student simply follows her from one public school to another, exactly how it would if she moved from one district school to another. Passing Question 2 will not change this fundamental approach to education policy and funding and charter schools will not be “stealing” money from public schools. In addition, when a student chooses a charter over a district school, the district receives 225% of the student’s per-pupil tuition revenues over the course of six years to buffer against the sending school’s loss in revenue to assist districts with their changing enrollments. Charter schools actually increase the amount of public dollars invested in public education.

Charter schools in Massachusetts are consistently recognized as the best in the country and serve all types of students. In fact, charters across Massachusetts serve more special needs students and English Language Learners than the statewide average.

Researchers from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the Brookings Institution have found that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. According to Brookings, the effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores. Stanford CREDO found that Boston’s charters have eliminated the achievement gap between Hispanic and White students and significantly narrowed the gap between African American and White students.

Charter schools are held to rigorous academic, management, financial, and governance standards. Charters are held accountable by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. You can even argue that charters are held more accountable than district public schools.

If a charter does not meet an agreed-upon set of organizational goals and academic performance targets, the state can place the school on probation or even shut it down. Charters undergo an intensive charter review and renewal process every five years. This process is considered the most rigorous in the country and has contributed to our charters being the best in the country -- quality schools are allowed to operate, while poor schools are shut down.

These are just a few of the many data points that underscore why this debate should be facts-based. Charter schools are not for everyone, just like existing district schools do not serve every student’s needs. Our country’s best charter schools are right here in Massachusetts and they are finally providing a sense of hope to those seeking better opportunities.

Further, what this debate really needs to be about is the families who are trying to get their kids into better public schools. There are nearly 33,000 children on charter school wait lists across the state, mostly in urban areas with low-performing public schools. For generations, urban public schools have failed to provide an adequate education for many students. Isn’t it time we support more good schools for poor families immediately rather than waiting another generation while district schools are “fixed?” The Yes on 2 campaign is giving these families -- many of whom are from low-income backgrounds and can’t afford to move to districts with quality public schools -- a voice.

One final point. The ballot question calls for up to 12 new charter schools or expansions per year across Massachusetts, with a preference for new seats given to the bottom 25% of performing districts. Passing Question 2 will not and does not threaten most districts across Massachusetts, including Holliston. Holliston has not yet reached its current charter cap because there is no demand for charter schools in Holliston. There are nine total communities in MA that would see charter expansion if Question 2 passes: Lawrence, Lowell, Fall River, Everett, Boston, Holyoke, Chelsea, Springfield, and Malden. This debate is about the families in these communities and their need for better schools today, not ten years from now.

I hope you will join me in voting Yes on 2 on November 8 for the families whose children only get one shot at a good education. You can learn more about our campaign at

Shane Dunn is Coalitions Director for the Great Schools Massachusetts Yes on 2 Campaign. Prior to joining the campaign this summer, he worked at Excel Academy Charter Schools in East Boston.

Comments (7)

Filacio, From what I understand , this is not about Holliston. The Charter School expansion is in Urban, lower income areas at this point. Although Holliston does have charter like programs (French, Montessori), that uses resources that would otherwise go to more traditional programs (I am for those programs...makes sense as $ travels with kids, but its similar argument), but its under Teacher Union umbrella so not as heated politically.

Neil F | 2016-10-14 11:23:35

Ted, the last thing Holliston needs is more money going towards charter schools. Holliston's public schools are good as it is, why spend all this money just to give people a "choice?" If these people wants their kids to go to different schools, they can move to Milford or Framingham-that would stop all the complaining very quickly.

Filacio Torres | 2016-10-13 20:10:25

Interesting commentary on both sides. We are lucky to have great public schools in our state and Holliston in particular. However, not all kids are as lucky. The urban schools fail our kids. Research has proven that charter schools do benefit those that are lucky enough to win the lottery (Not cherry picked). Stanford University Center for research on Education outcomes published a report that indicated Boston Charter students learn 2x as fast as public school counterparts, progressing faster than white students at traditional public schools. I put myself in those parent shoes begging for charter schools, and if sole focus is on children then Yes seems like right way to go. Vast majority of No's are conflicted. I am not directly personally affected either way. Yes, it is capitalistic in that the $$ flows with the child, but that may make the most sense. Jobs will follow the $. Teacher Union wont like it, but perhaps competition will lift all boats, signs of this already occurring. Boston Schools are bloated, have capacity for 93k students but only serve 54k students according to 2015 McKinsey Study, that is a tremendous waste of $ for poor performance. Significant capacity & schools should be shut down. The "dark money" argument seems weak, class warfare Liz Warren type of garbage. Mike Bloomberg donated 12 million, very public, not dark. Not profit motivated, but yes ideologically driven to provide those less fortunate with a fair shot. Billionaire doesn't necessarily = evil. A better argument, maybe what impact have on those kids who remain as lose some of the most involved parents (parent who want better for their kids). Also, what impact on Special needs?

Neil F | 2016-10-13 14:16:59

I was a participant at the very civil HDTC meeting that hosted Shane Dunn who, although I disagree with many of his positions was quite polished and professional in his presentation in support for Question # 2 on lifting the charter school cap. In Shane's introductory comments he stated that he was not a Charter School teacher but rather for three years he was a paid fund raiser for the Excel Academy Charter School. Shane certainly was informative when he presented a glowing account of the Excel Academy Charter School located in East Boston and used that school as a spring board for his defense of charter schools in general and as an example how these schools benefit students and therefore should be expanded as proposed in Question #2. A lively discussion about state funding, loss of local control and the creation of a separate and unequal system of education in the Commonwealth followed his presentation. The discussion was quite lively and interesting and his statements in the Reporter accurately encapsulated his comments at the HDTC I was especially interested in Shane's comments when asked by committee members about the teacher certification requirement for charter school teachers, and the general salary scale that these teachers receive and working conditions. Shane, admitted that Charter School teachers may or may not be certified but are not required by the state and he proudly proclaimed that Charter School teachers tend to be young, idealistic, enthusiastic and frequently work for 65-70 hours a week for a salary that is a good deal less than what they would receive in a truly public school system. He also indicated that the average charter school teacher remains at a school for about four years. However what I found to be the most serious flaw in Mr. Dunn's argument was when he stated at the meeting and in the Reporter article that if passed the language in referendum Question # 2 states that of the 12 new charter schools that could be started ever year in perpetuity with a "preference for new seats given to the bottom 25% of performing districts". A Preference is not a legal mandate and three preference schools would still allow 9 schools per year to be opened in any district regardless of opposition by local officials and citizen tax-payers. Also Mr. Dunn was unable to give a definitive or positive response to the questions; when, how or even if the money that followed the student who returns from the Charter after only 20% of the school year brings back with her 80% of the funds that left with her Not brought up at the HTDC meeting was the entire topic of "dark money that Dianna Vosburg mentioned in her Reporter comment. I will look forward to her follow up comments or article on that topic. Thanks for this article as well as your past articles. As always I look forward to reading the Holliston Reporters future article on this and other topics. Bill Dooling 4:30 10/13/16

bill dooling | 2016-10-13 13:35:23

Thanks for this write up Shane. At the end of the day, this comes down to one basic premise: Allowing for parents and kids to have their own choice. A similar notion of money->kids could be made for someone being homeschooled. Are we having a great cry against kids being home schooled because "it takes away money" from a school that's owed it? No, we aren't. Regardless of whatever distractions are being thrown out about who is funding what, (did we have a big rallying cry to vote against decriminalizing marijuana because George Soros was bankrolling it to the tune of millions of $?), we need to look at the issue at hand. I hope everyone takes the time to learn about the question (the facts, not the conjecture or spin), and make up their mind on that, whatever their decision may be on Nov 8. Thanks for writing an informative piece.

Ted Dooley | 2016-10-13 06:15:13

The fact remains that charter schools are selective, and regular public schools are not. Reason enough to vote no. I also challenge the statement that charter schools serve more special needs students and english language learners than the statewide average. And while statistics are being thrown around, include the number of students shipped back to regular public schools because charters don't want to deal with discipline issues.

Art Winters | 2016-10-13 04:41:31

Please, readers, note that Great Schools (and presumably the author, Shane Dunn) is ultimately funded by lots of dark money from out-of-state wealthy interests including the mega-billionaire Walmart heir, Alice Walton (donated 710K), hedge fund managers, the Broad Institute, etc. These entities share an ideology. They want to privatize our public schools, because there is great deal of public funding to be passed into private hands. That's the ultimate goal for them. It's not about "great schools". I'll try to write up a longer rebuttal when I have a minute.

Dianna Vosburg | 2016-10-13 04:35:52