School Choice & Charters

Massachusetts Voters Say No to Raising State Cap on Charter Schools

By Arianna Prothero — November 08, 2016 2 min read
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Massachusetts voters appear to have been headed toward a solid rejection of a bid to raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open in the state, with supporters of the measure known as Question 2 conceding before all votes were even counted.

With more than 40 percent of precincts reporting results, 62 percent of voters had cast their ballots to block the measure, and 37 percent had voted in favor, according to the Associated Press.

The ballot question to expand the presence of charters in the state had drawn national attention: political heavy-weights such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the initiative, and millions have poured in from out-of-state organizations and donors to sway voters on the issue.

As of Election Day, campaigns for and against Question 2 had collectively spent more than $41 million.

Groups supporting lifting the charter school cap raised more than $26 million, while opponents of the measure raised a little over $15 million, according to the most recent campaign finance records.

In the end, the additional money didn’t pay off.

“Although we are disappointed with tonight’s result, the work being done by Massachusetts best-in-the-nation public charter schools continues,” the Vote Yes on 2 Campaign said in a statement. “These great schools will continue to provide first-rate education choices to kids stuck in failing schools. The creation of the charter movement, and the effort to reform a system that has changed so little in a hundred years isn’t easy, but we know the thousands of parents, teachers and students that have fueled this campaign will press on.”

The most recent poll from Suffolk University and the Boston Globe showed voters evenly split on the charter cap question, but with 9 percent still undecided when the poll results were released two weeks ago.

The statewide cap on charter schools is set at 120 campuses under current law—which is a fairly restrictive cap compared to many other states. Even though Massachusetts hasn’t hit that ceiling of 120 schools yet, some areas—such as Boston—have reached separate, regional limits.

Question 2 would have allowed the state to approve 12 new charter schools a year.

This is the culmination of a three-pronged push started by advocates last year to raise the cap that included legislation and a lawsuit in addition to the ballot initiative.

But the bill fizzled last legislative session, and a Suffolk County Superior Court judge recently dismissed the lawsuit.

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Photo: A sign promoting a ballot question to eliminate the cap on charter schools is seen outside a polling station in Dudley Square in Boston, on Nov. 8. —Michael Dwyer/AP

A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.