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Charter School Advocates Rally To Lift Enrollment Cap

Charter school advocates

A campaign to lift an enrollment cap on charter schools in Massachusetts is building momentum that could lead to a showdown vote on Election Day 2016.

About a dozen people wearing blue T-shirts that read “Great Schools Now” held a noontime rally in downtown Springfield Monday to call for lifting the charter school cap that they claim is arbitrarily denying children in poor communities a chance at a good education.

At a similar rally in Boston last week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said it was a “disgrace” that 37,000 children are on waiting lists for charter schools in the state.

Three attorneys have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state on behalf of five children in Boston that claims the cap violates the children’s constitutional rights to a quality education.

At the Springfield rally, parents whose children attend charter schools praised the education their kids are receiving, while other parents spoke of their frustration over being on a waiting list for a lottery to get their children admitted to a charter school.

Noritza Perez said at the rally she has three children enrolled in the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in Holyoke.  She said she is proud that her daughter is on the school’s honor roll and is making plans to go to community college next year.

"  For my family public charter school has been a positive impact and I want more parents to gain the experience of the education they offer," she said.

Another parent advocate, Hazel Rosario, noted that the Holyoke Public School system was recently put under state receivership after more than a decade of rock bottom academic achievement.

"Our children deserve better," she said.

Michelle Hernandez said she is frustrated that her son is on a waiting list for a chance to get into a charter school in Springfield.

" Public charter schools need to be more available and should not be limited to small numbers of families that won a lottery," said Hernandez.

The Springfield rally, and the one last week in Boston, were organized by Great Schools Massachusetts, a coalition of parents, community groups, charter school operators and education advocates. 

The coalition has proposed a ballot question that would allow the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to authorize up to 12 new charter schools, or expand existing ones per year. Priority for the new charter school seats would be given to the lowest performing school districts and those with the highest number of students on waiting lists.

Josiane Martinez, a spokesperson for the pro-charter coalition, said the Springfield rally was aimed at raising public awareness about the charter school cap as the group sets out to collect the roughly 65,000 signatures that are needed to put the question on the November 2016 ballot.

" We hope people pay attention, because children can not wait another year stuck in schools that are not providing what they need," said Martinez.

The Massachusetts Teachers Association, one of the leading opponents of lifting the charter school cap, contends charter schools take resources away from public schools and don’t do enough to help students with special needs.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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