We are following closely the discussion about potential changes to the cap on charter schools. There is much room for debate about the value, impact, funding and accountability of charter schools, and we applaud the work of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and our local legislative delegation in carefully considering options and impacts. However, there is one key issue that is rarely mentioned. Charter schools have a disproportionate and negative impact on smaller and more rural school districts — including Greenfield and almost all of the other districts in Franklin and Hampshire counties.
The Collaborative for Educational Services (CES) and the superintendents of most of the school districts in Franklin and Hampshire counties have been examining the data about enrollment trends across both counties. We have also begun meeting with local legislators, most recently Sen. Benjamin Downing and Rep. Stephen Kulik, and have provided Sen. Rosenberg and other legislators representing the two counties with our data analysis.
Several key findings emerge from this data:
For over 10 years, we have had declining numbers of school-age children in the counties; we are losing about 220 per year in Hampshire County and 150 per year in Franklin County.
Overall, over 12 percent of students in both Franklin and Hampshire counties are in charter schools, private schools, parochial schools, or home schooling. This means only 88 percent of the shrinking school population are attending regular (non-charter) public schools — a big reason our districts are struggling financially.
Existing charter schools are already enrolling an average of 3 percent of the two counties’ students; the percent is over 5 percent in Northampton, Greenfield, Williamsburg, Cummington, Erving and Plainfield.
So how do charter schools impact our districts? First, charter schools have a significant and disproportionate financial impact in our relatively small municipal and regional districts. Many of the school districts in our counties have only one or two schools in a particular town or grade level, so our districts do not have the ability to offset the revenues lost to charter schools by reducing the number of grade-level classrooms or shuttering buildings. Second, given the declining numbers of school-age children in our region, and discussions about consolidation or regionalization, opening additional charter schools seems counter-productive. Third, charter (and private) schools have a disproportionate impact on the diversity of the student body. For example, charter schools in our region generally serve lower percentages of English Language Learners and students with special needs than the local districts do.