On Thursday, Nov. 21, I had the opportunity to participate in a Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education public hearing on the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (“STEAM”) Studio Charter School application. At the hearing, the panel spent two hours listening to comments for and against the STEAM Studio Charter School application. Speakers included superintendents, School Committee members, teachers, parents and students.
Andover Superintendent Marinel McGrath spoke about how Andover High School has already integrated STEAM programs in its current strategic plan and that the charter school would merely serve to divert precious public school funds to provide redundant programs. She also stressed that Andover is committed and responsible for providing a high-quality education for ALL students.
As one of the parent representatives of the Andover High School Council, I was there to speak out against the charter school. The day before, the council had voted unanimously to oppose the application due to its overlap with current Andover High School programs and the inequity of the proposed financial model.
While the charter school program redundancy with AHS makes the charter school unnecessary, it is the proposed financial model that will cripple our current Andover school system. Charter school proponents say not to worry about the finances, but that’s because the finances work to their favor. Charter school proponents say to focus on the students and ignore the financial implications but students and the funding are inextricably linked.
Funding the charter school would put Andover High School in particular and the Andover school system in general into financial distress. This financial distress will lead to the decline of the quality and character of our high-achieving schools. All Massachusetts communities, including Andover, receive so-called Chapter 70 funds, which is the state financial aid to local communities for education. Chapter 70 funds are distributed based on the income levels of the community’s residents. Lower-income communities receive a greater percentage of their educational budget from Chapter 70 funds. The remaining educational budget not supported by Chapter 70 funds comes from our local tax dollars.