Associated Industries of Massachusetts member-employers favor by a two-to-one margin expanding the number of charter schools in the commonwealth, according to an AIM survey released this morning.
Question Two on the November 8 statewide ballot will ask voters whether to lift the current cap on charter schools. AIM supports raising the cap and has endorsed a “yes” vote on Question Two.
Sixty-eight percent of 107 employers who responded to a special question on the September AIM Business Confidence Index Survey said the state needs more charter schools. Thirty-two percent believe Massachusetts should not permit the creation of more charters.
Current law allows no more than 120 charter schools to operate in Massachusetts and seventy eight charters are now active. About 40,000 students, or a little more than 4 percent of Massachusetts elementary and secondary students, attend charter schools. The Education Department estimates that another 34,000 students are on waiting lists.
A "Yes" vote on Question 2 would give the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to lift the cap, allowing up to 12 new charter schools or expansions of existing charters each year. Priority would be given to charters that open in lower-performing districts.
Employers who support Question Two cite strong academic performance at charters, the value of competition and the ability of charters to innovate as reasons to lift the cap.
“Schools that have less government involvement, less union involvement and greater competition clearly have a better chance of achieving excellence than an entity run by the government,” one employer commented.
Opponents of charter expansion express concern about the potential siphoning of financial support for existing public schools.
“This is the time to invest and fund more to public education than to take money away,” said another employer.
Katherine Holahan, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM, said employer support for charters reflects persistent concern about the shortage of workers with the skills needed for the global knowledge economy.
“Employers are accustomed to innovation. They value it in all areas of business, so it’s only logical that that extends to the education of Massachusetts’ future work force,” Holahan said.
“Charter schools can provide the innovative educational opportunities that encourage students interested in diverse fields of study. As our members face increasing challenges to finding qualified workers, they are looking to a variety of sources to find capable, qualified employees at all skill levels.”
Employers also seem swayed by the statistics about charter-school performance. In Boston, for example, the average yearly academic growth for charter-school students was more than four times that of their traditional school peers in reading. In math, the academic growth was more than six times greater.