Polls Show Strong Support for Lifting Cap on Charter Schools in Massachusetts

As the State Senate considers a bill on charter schools, a new poll indicates Bay State residents support more charter schools.

As the State Senate takes up its compromise bill on charter schools, the potential ballot question it is designed to head off at the pass is enjoying significant support from Massachusetts voters in recent polls. The ballot question would increase the number of charter schools in the state.

A poll sponsored by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association and conducted by the MassINC Polling Group found overwhelming support from Boston parents of school-aged children for a proposed ballot question that would lift the cap on charter schools in the state. The poll, conducted in March but released this week, found 73 percent of parents in Boston support the ballot question while just 21 percent oppose it. The poll also found that 48 percent of parents dismissed the idea that charter schools are the source of budget problems for Boston Public Schools, while 31 percent think they are, a sign of additional strong support from parents for the bill.

Support for lifting the cap is strongest in the city’s minority communities: 86 percent of Latino parents and 81 percent of African-American parents support the bill. Only two groups of parents registered less than 50 percent support for the bill: whites and people holding advanced degrees, at 42 and 44 percent, respectively.

A WBZ/UMASS Amherst statewide poll found 51 percent of likely voters support the ballot question, while 23 percent oppose the proposal. Over 26 percent of respondents indicated they aren’t sure how they feel about the question.

These high polling numbers are great for proponents, but they’re coming out before the ballot question faces a multi-million dollar assault from opponents. Both sides in the charter school debate appear ready to spend a fortune on the question before it goes to the voters in November.

The proposed ballot question would allow the creation of up to 12 new or expanded charter schools in the state’s lowest performing public school districts. An increase in the cap on charter schools would affect cities at or near the budgetary cap, including Boston, Lawrence, Fall River, and Springfield. State law currently limits the level of district spending on public charter schools to 18 percent of their education budget and caps the number of charter schools statewide at 120. The roots of the cap and spending limit can be traced to the creation of the law in 1993, when the Senate and House wanted different things in the state’s landmark education reform bill. At the time, one side wanted vouchers and another wanted an unlimited number of charters that would be publicly controlled. They ultimately compromised on an initial cap of 25 charter schools before passing the law.

The Senate’s bill, known as the RISE Act, received a very cool reception from proponents and opponents of the November ballot questions, as well as key Beacon Hill players such as Gov. Charlie Baker and House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Opponents of the bill oppose any measure that would increase the number of charter schools in the state, while supporters of charters think the bill is filled with poison pills.