Boston Business Journal, Morning Edition, 2/26/16  

Op-Ed by Phil Edmundson
Chair, The Alliance for Business Leadership

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Massachusetts needs educated workers in order to continue to grow our economy. That simple, non-controversial fact is the reason every business group fro the Berkshires to the Cape advocates for investments in public schools.

From there, the conversation gets complicated. As with most things, the devil is in the details. People of good faith have reasonable disagreements over how to ensure that the commonwealth’s schools keep their nation-leading status, and prepare each and every child for tomorrow’s economy. Having served on my town’s school committee during the height of the 1990s education-reform effort, I am well aware of how this territory gets murky.

At the Alliance for Business Leadership, those devilish details have meant that, historically, we confined our position to backing increased funding for education rather than wade into the cloudy waters of education policy. Instead, we have focused on other issues that advance sustainable and just economic growth, like earned sick time, raising the minimum wage, the Fair Share tax, carbon pricing, and equal pay.

After holding policy discussions on the achievement gap and early education, and meeting with representatives from higher education, two things have become clear. One, every child in our state should receive a high-quality public education no matter where he or she attends school. Two, the important and broad conversation around what is next for education in Massachusetts is essentially frozen until the issue of charter schools gets addressed.

A word about charters: They are neither the silver bullet for fixing all of our schools’ challenges, nor are they inherently bad. From where we stand, charters are a compelling choice for some families, potential breeding grounds for innovation, and a path to opportunity for kids who may otherwise be left behind. Support for more charter schools does not mean turning away from the vital work happening in district schools. Persistent achievement gaps require aggressive action, including giving superintendents, principals, and teachers the flexibility and autonomy they need to ensure our children receive the education they need and deserve.

Because we have drawn the two aforementioned conclusions, we are calling on our leaders on Beacon Hill to work together to pass a bill that allows for more charter schools in low performing districts and that provides more autonomy and flexibility in schools that are at risk of being classified as underperforming. It is imperative that the Legislature get unstuck so the wide-ranging education issues facing the Commonwealth — early education, assessments, school day length, diversifying the STEM pipeline, and the achievement gap, to name a few — can also see the light of day in the State House.

Importantly, the Alliance also strongly supports increased funding for public education, via the “Fair Share tax” or other means in order to ensure that all schools are fully equipped to best serve our kids.

My Alliance colleagues and I are heartened by the fact that there is clear agreement that improving education outcomes is essential to the future of our state. We are confident that our elected leaders can come together in the spirit of that shared understanding and craft a bill that puts the future of our state’s children in the center of the conversation. The future of the Massachusetts economy depends on it.

Phil Edmundson
Chair, The Alliance for Business Leadership