I choose choice and it’s not up for discussion

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom”

       -George Washington Carver

We’ve all seen the scenario played out time and time again. For wealthy people it’s an array of choices about where to send their children to school. Money is no object. For those who have a little extra money to spare, perhaps there are a couple of choices from which to choose the right school for their children. And if you are poor, there are no choices. And the only option you do have isn’t a good one.

And now I’m watching Massachusetts with a hopeful but also heavy heart as opportunity for those who have it the toughest is in the hands of the voters. There is a question on the ballot that asks voters to lift the arbitrary cap that currently exists for public charter schools. And while Massachusetts has the highest performing charter sector in the country, the status quo protectors have pulled out all the stops to make sure voters vote against the 32,000 students on charter wait lists.

We know that nationally, parents of color support school choice. We know that in Massachusetts, parents of color support lifting the charter cap. But the majority of voters in Massachusetts are white and don’t live in the cities where charters are at or near the cap and, therefore, unable to open or expand.

While the debate rages in Massachusetts, we must ask ourselves some tough questions about what we are willing to tolerate in our schools and how we treat parents who speak out and demand something better for their children and their communities.

While those who want to keep the cap rail against charters, they also have the audacity to tell poor families to wait. And keep waiting.

Democracy takes time. Building the kinds of communities that we want take time. -Barbara Madelini, President of the Massachusetts Teachers’ Union

The union president takes it an incredible step further. She wants poor parents of color to think beyond their own child in the name of democracy.

I could certainly sympathize with that as a feeling. But I would ask that person to join us in thinking beyond just your child. We are stronger as a community when we think beyond our circle. -Barbara Madeloni

But as Erika Sanzi has rightly observed, Mrs. Madeloni has never asked the same of affluent white parents who have choices about where to live and what schools they’d like their children to attend.

A poor parent in Massachusetts, or anywhere, can only dream of those options. And yet, they are the ones being told to sacrifice in the name of democracy.

We may be used to people stepping on our necks but that is just too much to take. Do people even realize that we have seen parents fined and jailed for choosing a school outside their district line for their children? And we are going to be lectured about democracy?

Where Were You When We Needed You?

Massachusetts has the opportunity to make the situation better for families most in need and people are crying foul. Now?

Where were you before when we needed you to cry foul? We didn’t hear you raising your voices or holding your signs to help the parents begging for higher expectations, better instruction, and more communication with parents.

We didn’t hear you when we told you our children weren’t safe at school.

We didn’t hear you when we cried about how few children can read and do math at grade level.

But now here you are, posing for photos and smiling your big smiles while you fight to protect the status quo at the expense of low-income families who desperately need your help.

The facts are on the table. And they are clear. Justin Cohen lays them out well in his explanation of why he is voting Yes on Question 2.

There are plenty of reasons to support voting “yes” on question two. Public charters in Massachusetts perform at a higher level relative to comparable schools, and polling suggests that there is a political preference for raising the cap in the affected communities. In addition, there is quantifiable demand for more charter schools in the capped communities, as thousands of families are on charter school waiting lists. When that demand is coupled with the waiting list for the METCO busing program, which has failed to grow because suburban communities refuse to create more space for low-income children, the need for greater options is even clearer. Harvard,Stanford, MIT, and the Brookings Institution all agree that charters in this state are working for the communities that need them most, and The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and former United States Senator Mo Cowan have endorsed lifting the cap.

So, Massachusetts. And Boston. We who are far stand with you. And we honor your efforts to do right by your children and the children of other families who need and want a choice about their family’s education — a choice that doesn’t depend on their street address.   

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