School Talk

Guest Post: Massachusetts Millennials Have Unique Opportunity to Use Their Voting Power to Help Children

Millennials wield a great deal of power in this election and that rings particularly true in Boston. According to SPARK Boston, millennials make up nearly half of the city’s workforce and approximately 45 percent of eligible voters. I am one of them. Yet, I’m guessing most millennials haven’t spent much time thinking about how they will vote on Question 2.

As a progressive millennial who has spent the past decade in Boston and currently lives and breathes Question 2, it is incumbent upon me to share what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen not only among Boston parents but also during my time working in a school that serves underprivileged children.

For far too long, society has sat idly by while children from disadvantaged backgrounds have seen our schools’ expectations of them fall lower and lower. We opt for the simple excuse and blame poverty for kids not reaching the same levels of achievement as their wealthier counterparts who live  in zip codes that have become out of reach for most Boston parents. By turning a blind eye, we literally deny poor children, mostly black and hispanic, the same opportunities to excel that families from white affluent families have come to expect and demand.

My experience working with Boston’s poor children in a school setting has convinced me of the limitless potential of all children to learn and achieve at high levels. For nearly three years I worked at Excel Academy Charter Schools, one of the state’s top-performing public charter schools whose student body was mostly low income Latino children. My time at the school taught me an important professional lesson: adults matter and can make a difference in kids’ lives. President Obama is right when he reminds us of the following:

These kids who come to us with challenges are our kids and they can succeed.

Here in Massachusetts, we have finally — after years and billions of dollars of educational interventions — identified the one solution in our educational toolkit that has closed the achievement gap between kids of means with those who are poor: public charter schools. We have a solution to one of our country’s most intractable social ills playing out in front of us. Those denying the success of Boston’s charter schools are being dishonest. The evidence is unequivocal.  Public charter schools work here in Massachusetts, especially in Boston where gold-standard study after study (from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the Brookings Institution) have shown academic gains greater than any other intervention ever studied.

For the last three months, I’ve watched adults rely on scare tactics to create false impressions about Massachusetts charter schools – the best charter schools in the country. In fact, we don’t just have the best charter schools. Massachusetts has the best public schools in the country, district schools included. But not all cities, and not all children, have access to the same great schools. And a vote against Question 2 is a vote to force parents to send their children to schools that they have rejected, schools that cause them to fear for their children’s futures.

Our public school tax dollars belong to our children. Period. No school or district is entitled to hold on to money for children they do not serve. School districts have an obligation to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and that can’t happen without political courage. When enrollments decline, for whatever reason, school districts must adjust. Boston’s leaders have been unwilling to make the hard choices. And the city’s children are paying the price.

Boston is full of young professional couples who often move out of the city once they have children. A major driver of this exodus of new parents is school quality. I recently got married. When my wife and I imagine our future as parents, one thing is clear. We are blessed to know that we will never have to put our children in a languishing level 3, 4, or 5 school. But we are keenly aware of the injustice that exists when any parent is forced to send their children off every day to a school that they do not want and did not choose. And we have the power to help the parents who are literally begging for more options for their children.

I support a Yes Vote on 2. This is more than just a debate about schooling in Massachusetts. It’s a debate about whether Boston prioritizes all children regardless of the zip code their family is able to afford. It’s about pushing the system to change now, not later. It’s about showing, with our vote, that we value the right guaranteed by our state constitution that all children be guaranteed access to a quality education. All children.

I humbly ask that you read this editorial in the Boston Globe. And vote Yes on 2.

Shane Dunn is Coalitions Director for the Great Schools Massachusetts Yes on 2 campaign. Previously, he was Managing Director of Strategic Growth and Development at Excel Academy Charter Schools in East Boston. Originally from Waterville, New York, he is a graduate of Head Start, his local public school, Cornell University, and Boston College.

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