Lifting the Massachusetts Cap on Charter Schools: Pro and Con

On November 8, Massachusetts residents will vote on Ballot Question 2, a referendum on whether to lift a statewide cap and allow up to 12 new charter schools to launch each year, with a preference given to charters that would open in low-performing districts. Proponents note that charters in the Bay State show some of the strongest academic results in the country and that lifting the cap would allow more disadvantaged students to attend high-quality charters. Opponents argue that the students who enroll in charter schools drain more than $400 million a year in state aid that currently goes to traditional public school districts.

This report from the Manhattan institute concludes that Massachusetts’s charter sector is among the strongest in the country. In Boston, students in charter schools learn twice as much in a year as students in the city’s district schools. Additionally, the success of Massachusetts charter schools has not done demonstrable academic harm to traditional district schools; indeed, student achievement has risen significantly across the 10 districts with the highest local share of charter enrollment.

While the enrollment in Massachusetts’s charter schools means that local school districts lose more than $400 million in aid under Chapter 70. that figure ignores the role of local contributions and the fact that charter enrollment also effectively increases per-pupil spending by over $85 million. Ultimately, the evidence lends far more support to the arguments of charter proponents than those of charter opponents.

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