New Poll Shows Strong Support to Lift Charter Caps in Gateway Cities

Date Published: 
May 2, 2013
News Type: 

Parents want more choices; support the charter model

BOSTON, May 2, 2013 – By a margin of almost 3-1 (64% support, 23% oppose), voters in Gateway Cities overwhelmingly support lifting caps on the number of charter public schools allowed in their communities to enable more children to enroll in these high performing public schools, according to a poll conducted by The MassINC Polling Group.

Support increased further – to 78%-17% – to lift enrollment caps to allow existing successful charter schools to replicate and create networks of similar schools.

The poll also found significant support for allowing charters to receive state funding to build or renovate their facilities (70%-23%), and for requiring cities and towns to lease vacant public buildings to charter schools (74%-18%). Currently charters are ineligible to receive any of the hundreds of millions of dollars that the state has made available for district school construction and renovation. Instead, charters must seek private financing from banks or other financial institutions.

The poll shows voters are drawn to charters by the reforms and innovations charters have initiated and the strategies they have employed to improve educational outcomes. These include longer school days, greater authority to hire and fire teachers, higher levels of accountability for performance, and more flexibility to innovate and customize educational programs to meet the needs of students.

“Gateway city voters want more of the schools in their own communities that they see producing results,” Steven Koczela, President of the MassINC Polling Group, said. “They want access to more good charter schools and more opportunity for operators with a track record of success. They also want access for charter schools to the same facilities and funding streams that other public schools have.”

The results are based on a survey of 519 registered voters from ten of the state’s largest Gateway Cities: Holyoke, Springfield, Lawrence, Brockton, New Bedford, Fitchburg, Fall River, Worcester, Lowell, and Chelsea. The poll was commissioned by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association (MCPSA) and was conducted last month.

“It is clear that parents in Gateway Cities from Holyoke to New Bedford support allowing charter schools to expand in their communities, and want the state to remove arbitrary caps on their growth,” Marc Kenen, Executive Director of the MCPSA, said. “The academic track record of existing Gateway charters is exceptional, but the enrollment caps are preventing parents from choosing where to send their children to school.”

There are currently 22 charter schools in the ten Gateway cities included in the poll. Brockton is the only city not to have a charter, although 300 of its students attend charters in Boston and on the South Shore. More than 10,000 students are enrolled in these 22 Gateway charters, while 11,000 sit on wait lists. Because of enrollment caps, Chelsea, Lawrence, Lowell, and Holyoke are already frozen to new charters, while others have room for only one or two more.

Legislation has been filed to eliminate charter caps in the lowest performing districts. Co- sponsored by Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Lawrence) and Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan), the bill is part of a comprehensive education reform package that includes new tools for district leaders to turnaround failing schools. The Legislature’s Education Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on May 7 at the State House.