On Beacon Hill: State Dems rally against Question 2 charter school expansion

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From State House News Service

ON THE AGENDA

  • More opposition to charter school expansion initiative
  • Video: Baker hits hot topics, including Trump-Pence and Pike changes
  • Citizen panel to vet marijuana legalization ballot question
Marijuana is used by patients to treat several maladies, including pain associated with end-stage cancer.

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Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in November. A group of voters will look into Question 4 beforehand, though.


TOP OF THE HILL

State Dems rally against Question 2 charter school expansion

The Massachusetts Democratic Party voted last week to oppose a ballot question that would expand charter schools in Massachusetts, putting the party at odds with some of its members in the Legislature.

“Our local communities cannot afford to lose even more money to charter schools,” said former Rep. Carol Donovan, a Democratic State Committee member from Woburn, in a statement. “Already, cities and towns [are] forced to make budget cuts every year due to the state’s underfunding of education and the money lost to charters. If this ballot question passes, it will create budget crises in hundreds of Massachusetts communities, and hurt the students who remain in our local district public schools.”

The party’s definitive position differs from the verdict of Democrats who run the Legislature and have differing opinions of charter schools. Legislative leaders were unable to broker a charter school compromise and have left the issue for voters to settle.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, and Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, have both taken on prominent roles backing passage of Question 2, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools or charter expansions in Massachusetts annually regardless of a statutory cap.

The Senate this year passed “The Rise Act,” tying charter cap increases to additional investment in local education, at an estimated cost of $203 million to $212 million annually for seven years.

The bill was knocked by critics who noted the lack of dedicated funding in the bill, which they described as placing on unfeasible burden on increasing access to a form of public education that operates outside the control of local school committees.

Rather than seek compromise with the Senate, House leaders abandoned hope of a legislative solution, allowing the question to be decided by voters on Nov. 8.


The debate takes to Twitter:


Mara Dolan, communications director for Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, entered the fray last week, writing on Twitter, “This just in: Democrats in Massachusetts turn out to be real Democrats after all, vote to oppose increasing charter schools.”

Liam Kerr, Massachusetts state director of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports expanding access to charters, found Dolan’s comment laugh-provoking, writing, “LOL people who thought RISE Act was good faith effort.”

Gov. Charlie Baker and other Massachusetts Republicans back the ballot question and other means of expanding alternatives to the traditional district-led schooling, arguing it allows for experimentation and oftentimes better education.

Many Democrats oppose expanding charter school access, arguing that it saps money from school districts as dollars follow students to charters and subverts local control of school committees.

Democrats were gathered in Lawrence last week to choose electors to the Electoral College and the resolution was offered by Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, according to a party spokesperson, who said it passed on a voice vote.

seven hills_charter

According to someone in attendance, there was only a scattering of people who opposed the measure out of the nearly 300 at the gathering.

Democrats for Education Reform sponsored two of the breakfast events Massachusetts Democrats held at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, as Politico Massachusetts reported at the time.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Tom McGee, who is a senator from Lynn, opposes increases to the cap on charter schools and told State House News Service in Philadelphia that the sponsorship did not reflect the party’s position.

“It’s not indicative of any reflection of what the position of the party would be,” McGee said, noting breakfasts had been sponsored by corporations such as AT&T and National Grid. McGee said breakfast event sponsorships cost in the range of $2,500 to $5,000 and allow sponsors the opportunity to address the crowd for a couple of minutes.

Acknowledging there is a “different perspective,” McGee said, “I personally and particularly in the Senate have supported keeping the cap in place.”

— Andy Metzger (SHNS)


VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Baker on Pence’s ‘great’ Mass. talk, Trump, Mass. Pike tolls, charter schools and more

 


IN THE NEWS

Experts, citizen panel reflecting state’s votership to scrutinize Question 4

Seven experts with experience in marijuana policy, including legal, medical and business types, will help a group of 20 Massachusetts voters next week dive headfirst into the debate over the marijuana legalization ballot question in order to give fellow voters easy-to-understand information on the initiative.

The experts, including two officials who work directly with Colorado’s legal marijuana industry, will be questioned by the 20-voter panel of the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR), a pilot program designed to produce pro and con statements about the ballot question that could be easily digested by average voters.

The group of 20 Massachusetts voters, selected to closely match the demographics of the state electorate, will meet for four days next week to hold something of a public hearing on the ballot question, inviting testimony from supporters, opponents and the policy experts.

The panel will not endorse a yes or no vote on the question, but instead strive to give voters as much unvarnished information as possible in the form of pro and con statements that will be distributed statewide immediately following the end of the deliberations.

The CIR is a pilot program sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Hecht, the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University and Healthy Democracy, which implemented a similar citizens’ initiative review system in Oregon in 2011.

“Our goal with the CIR pilot project is to present as much information as possible to a group of engaged voters who represent the voter base of our state,” Hecht said in a statement. “With the participation of the campaigns on both sides of the issue, as well as nationally-recognized experts, we believe that the voter panel will have a wealth of knowledge from which to draft a citizens’ statement that will aid voters in making an informed decision.”

The group of experts, according to the CIR, includes: Ashley Kilroy, executive director of marijuana policy for the City and County of Denver; Andrew Freedman, director of the Governor’s Office of Marijuana Coordination in Colorado; John Hudak, senior fellow in governance studies and deputy director of the Center for Effective Public Management at the Brookings Institute; Richard McGowan, associate professor of the practice in finance at Boston College; Sean Kealy, clinical associate professor of law at Boston University Law School; Staci Gruber, director of marijuana investigations for neuroscientific discovery and cognitive and clinical neuroimaging Core at McLean Hospital; and Jeffrey Samet, section chief of general internal medicine at Boston Medical Center.

Representatives from the pro-legalization campaign — Yes on 4 — and the anti-legalization campaign — The Campaign for a Safe and Healthy Massachusetts — will also answer questions from the voter panel.

Led by professional moderators, the group will meet from Aug. 25 through Aug. 28 at the Atrium School in Watertown. The deliberations are open to the public.

The voter panel was selected using an “objective, scientific method” and the group includes “women and men from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled voters in the same proportions as the electorate as a whole,” according to CIR organizers.

Question 4 would impose a 3.75 percent state excise tax on retail marijuana sales, allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in public, and establish a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the new industry, among other provisions.

Marijuana advocates have had marked success taking marijuana reform efforts directly to the voters. Possession of less than an ounce of pot was decriminalized by voters in 2008, and four years later voters handily approved the medical use of marijuana. In both years, organized opposition to the ballot measures was almost non-existent.

But this year, the opposition is backed by Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and is being coordinated by former aides to Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey, who also opposes marijuana legalization.

— Colin A. Young (SHNS)

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