Bernie Sanders jumps into Massachusetts’s charter school fight, opposes Question 2

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gestures while campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Bernie Sanders was in New Hampshire on Tuesday, campaigning for Hillary Clinton and Gov. Maggie Hassan. –Jim Cole / AP

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Bernie Sanders says he opposes the Massachusetts ballot question to raise the charter school cap, in what is one of Question 2 opponents’ most high-profile, if not particularly surprising, endorsements.

Inserting himself into the state politics of his southerly neighbor, the popular Vermont senator said in a statement Monday that the campaign supporting Question 2 was being backed by Wall Street hedge fund managers and, if passed, the measure would drain resources from public schools.

Question 2 proposes to allow Massachusetts to raise the state charter cap by 12 schools each year. The initiative counts most Republicans, including Gov. Charlie Baker, and some Democrats as supporters. However, recently some high-profile progressive Democrats, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, have announced their opposition to the measure.

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“Wall Street must not be allowed to hijack public education in Massachusetts,” Sanders said in a statement provided Tuesday by Save Our Public Schools, the main group campaigning against Question 2.

“We must defeat Massachusetts Ballot Question 2,” Sanders continued. “This is Wall Street’s attempt to line their own pockets while draining resources away from public education at the expense of low-income, special education students and English language learners.”

Both campaigns on Question 2 have been infused with cash this year. The Yes on 2 campaign has received the majority of its funding from an opaque New York group, which has also supported efforts to increase charter schools in other states, while Question 2 opponents are backed almost entirely by teachers unions.

Save Our Public Schools said Tuesday the group was “thrilled to have the support of Senator Sanders in this Main Street vs. Wall Street fight.”

In his statement, Sanders referred to an argument frequently made by Question 2 opponents, which claims according to state data charters already “siphon” $450 million from public education and increasing the cap would increase that figure if passed.

“The goal of public education is to educate every child and that is why teachers and 200 elected school boards and city councils in Massachusetts oppose Question 2,” Sanders said.

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Question 2 supporters responded Tuesday in a statement provided to The Republican.

“We are happy to have a broad and bipartisan coalition of support that includes Governor Baker, Speaker [Robert] DeLeo, Congressman [Stephen] Lynch, former U.S. Senator Mo Cowan, the editorial board support of almost every major daily newspaper in the state, and tens of thousands of families who are fighting to make sure they get a fair shot at providing their kids with a quality education,” said Eileen O’Connor, a spokeswoman for Great Schools Massachusetts.

It’s not the first time Sanders has expressed skepticism about the nature of charter schools.

“I believe in public education and I believe in public charter schools,” he said during a CNN town hall last March. “I do not believe in privately controlled charter schools.”

As NPR noted at the time, charter schools (unlike private schools) are publicly funded and overseen by the state. But they governed by privately-appointed boards.

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