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James Burke: Charter schools enhance, not drain

To the editor:

In Deborah Keisch Polin and Tim Scott’s guest column (“The high price of charters,” May 17), the authors attack local charter public schools as a drain on Northampton’s budget and a force undermining public education.

Unfortunately, while the authors touch on important concerns about school reform, many of their arguments against charter public schools are misleading and divisive in a time of fiscal stress.

First, the authors repeatedly suggest that charter schools are not public schools. But, like Northampton district schools, charter schools are public schools which are free and universally available to Northampton’s children (a lottery system is used if applications exceed charter school openings).

So, while revenues are redirected from Northampton district schools when parents opt for a charter school, it is clearly misleading to state that “charters drain public schools” of funds. It is also disingenuous to claim that taxpayers “foot that tuition bill” for children attending the local charter schools as, just like for district schools, there is no tuition charge for children to attend.

Second, the authors inflate the costs to Northampton of charter school enrollments by ignoring the state payments to districts when resident children attend charter schools (full reimbursement in the first year and 25 percent for the next five years).

Thus, the district will not pay $11,000 to $14,000 next year for a charter school enrollment, as the authors write, but an average of $9,000 (less than the per-pupil expenditure in the district as a whole).

In addition, with 200 Northampton students expected to attend charter schools next year the district’s staffing costs will be smaller (district teacher-student ratios suggest a reduction of teacher salaries by $750,000 or more).

We should not lose sight that, whether in charter or district public schools, by financing public education the city will reap rewards in the future for our community and in children’s lives.

James Burke


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