Sunday, October 18, 2015

0 How I Really Feel - Testimony Before Joint Ed Committee Regarding Charter Schools

My own testimony before the Massachusetts Legislature's Joint Education Committee at the hearing regarding lifting the cap on charter schools on October 13, 2015. I hope all of our legislators read this, and more importantly, read and watch Tabitha's testimony at the same hearing as she is a BPS student and students are the true consumers of our education system.
Dear Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Peisch and Joint Education Committee Members:
My name is Karen Kast-McBride and I am a proud Boston Public School parent, advocate and Citizens for Public Schools Board member. I want all parents to have choices in where they educate their children, but is it true choice if the choice is only for a select few - students who will most likely succeed no matter which school they attend? Is it really school choice if it is only open to those who do well on tests, sit still, behave and do not have language or ability barriers? Is it true choice when children with language or special needs are punished for their inability to conform? It is not choice, it is segregation.
Both of my daughters go to Boston Public Schools which have seen budget cuts of $300-500,000.00 per year for the past ten years. Over six years the Irving Middle School received over $3,000,000.00 in cuts while the Irving populations of SWD (37%), ELL (17.2%) and High Needs (75.1%) increased – quite a few of whom were pushed out of charter schools. The Irving has the highest number of Emotionally Impaired SWD outside of a special education school - students who have been traumatized or have severe emotional and psychiatric needs, and has the highest number of students in foster care in Boston (possibly the state), which generates a slew of new issues to address. Despite all of these factors, the Irving has become the most highly chosen stand-alone middle school in Boston and increased students’ success rates on mandated testing, and more importantly, their overall success in school and life.
Unfortunately, our true public schools are bleeding - due to budget cuts which consistently increase as federal and state education funding dwindles and charter schools take larger portions of our BPS budget which is not fully reimbursed as many charter proponents claim. By the way, charter schools are allocated 3-4 times the amount my daughters' schools receive per-pupil. I would be happy to explain the difference in per-pupil dollars allocated to a BPS school vs. the amount allocated to charter schools for the same type of students, just ask me.
The decisions you make regarding education drastically impact the thousands of students I represent along with their public schools. Both of my daughters are students with special needs, both have IEPs, and both have IQs in the 98th percentile - so like many of our special needs students, the schools are challenged to address both their gifted and special needs. All of these students are amazingly smart and will go far, but need some help which their public schools give them. I have watched many of these students not just get through and pass an arbitrary test, but truly flourish and become lifelong learners with strong voices who are now becoming the leaders in their communities.
Are you willing to make a decision that could lead to these students being unable to progress and flourish as they already have because their schools can no longer sustain quality educational programs? Are you willing to allow charter schools to continue their practice of not accepting or pushing out students with disabilities or language needs? I would be happy to educate you on why any vote to lift the cap on charter schools may actually be in direct violation of the special education laws which guarantee students with disabilities access to the same quality educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers, just ask me.  
The conversation regarding lifting the charter cap is premature until we truly invest in our traditional public schools instead of draining funds out of them and into charter schools which: 
  • practice selective enrollment as well as pushing out students who don't test well;
  • claim 100% of their graduates go on to college without clarifying that of the many 9th graders who start at their schools few are left to graduate (a traditional public school would be closed due to those results), and most who do graduate are white, contrary to the marketing done which claims charter schools are successful for students of color; and,
  • let’s not forget, there is no transparency regarding the money charter schools take in - whether public or private – as they refuse to open their books to auditors of all levels. 

The valiant steps your colleagues have taken since last year, such as review of the foundation budget, attrition, graduation and suspension rates in charter schools, and much more still need to be done prior to any legislation going forward on lifting the cap.
I am not asking you to eliminate the charter schools which already exist, I ask that we address the issues we are all aware of with this education model prior to even discussing allowing more to open. Last year, after meeting with concerned students, families and educators, many of your colleagues made a promise to concerned students, families and educators to review all of the issues prior to considering lifting the cap on charter schools again. I ask that that promise be kept and that you focus your energies on doing more to ensure the success of our traditional public schools which should be your first priority.
I ask that you vote NOT to pass the Governor’s proposal (HD 4191) and any other legislation which would lift the cap and H385, until all of the issues above are addressed. I also ask that you vote NOT to pass H444/S327.
I also ask that you vote to PASS Bills S326, H485, H490, S295, H380, S321 and H467.
Please stand up for students like my daughters, stand for the students whose parents can't even take a minute to call or email you, stand against the pro-charter school lobbyists, corporations and those who would use tax dollars to further their own wealth without any true concern for these children who cannot stand up for themselves. 


Karen Kast-McBride

To get involved with the fight for our students and public education, please:

Call, email, write and visit your state Senator and Representative;
Join myself and others throughout Massachusetts by:
Contacting me via email or Twitter @bpsnightmare 
and if you use social media, be sure to check out and "Like" the Facebook page for "Keep The Cap on Charter Schools Massachusetts" and follow @KeepTheCapMass on Twitter.


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