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Charter-school question could smack Boston's credit rating, and, no, Obama has not endorsed Question 2

The Globe reports the Moody's rating service is warning that passage of Question 2, which would increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, could hurt Boston's credit rating. WBUR reports the Yes on 2 people stuck Obama's picture on a flyer even though the president has taken no position on the question (unlike Bernie Sanders).

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But I'm probably going to do the opposite of what Obama endorses (vice versa)

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Since Obama hasn't taken a position one way or another on this issue. Flip a coin?

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I heard Obama say he wants you to stay in Massachusetts forever.

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That Obama mailer is really distressing. I know Arne Duncan is Mr. Charter and all, but to imply an actual endorsement by President Obama is really disingenuous.

This follows on the heels of the new Baker strategy of convincing suburban voters to assuage their socio-economic guilt by voting to help the "poor minorities" who can't manage to help themselves. It's going to be really ugly if this thing passes and Boston votes NO while suburbs facing no financial impact from raising the cap vote YES.

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Not at all like the "Boston doesn't want to, therefore no one else is allowed to" mentality. That's pure fluffy bunnies, daffodils, and good old-fashined American civic-mindedness right there.

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Was an example. There are obviously many communities whose budgets will be greatly impacted by this expansion. Look no further than the overwhelming number of commonwealth school boards who have made symbolic votes against Q2.

The Baker ad is specifically targeting people who live in the tony towns where the current cap would allow more schools at the moment. They have no reason to worry about the financial implications of the question, but are being sold a story of how they can save communities (who do worry about that) from themselves.

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Rural towns already have big problems with the state reneging on commitments to support their transportation budgets (the carrot behind regionalization) and can't exactly afford to lose any more per-student money that doesn't come with a proportional reduction in fixed costs. The fact that charter drain doesn't alleviate fixed costs is simple enough for even a stubborn libertarian to understand, and is sufficient reason by itself to vote no on 2.

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This will impact suburbs and rural areas, as much cities. Lowell is already struggling with their city maintenance d/t charter assessments. Ludlow superintendent of schools has written extensively about this.

The "yes" ad campaign is run by the same agency that came up with the swiftboating of John Kerry's presidential run.

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I was at a forum with Tito Jackson in Roxbury last week with a moderator - two Yes supporters (a parent and a charter administrator) and three anti #2 (a teacher, a student and Councilor Jackson).

The charter administrator pointed out that polling indicates that question 2 is significantly favored in urban districts - ESPECIALLY by people of color. The anti 2 support is mostly whites in the suburbs because the armchair liberals are afraid this might impact their schools (in fact - under current law a Yes on 2 will only impact 9 districts - basically the larger, minority districts).

No way to be sure -but I'm guessing that's also why the "Yes on 2" spokes-teacher is a young white woman and the "No on 2" spokes-teacher is an African American woman. That seems more than a coincidence.

As for "it will hurt Boston's credit rating" - doubtful. We've had charters for 20 odd years and our credit rating has only gotten better. If Boston can save the $100 million a year it wastes according to the BPS long term planning committee announced last week - we have years before we even have to raise the budget by a single dollar. Granted - doing that will take a political spine - which according to Moody's, no politician has, so that's their main critique.

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I think it is pretty clear that question 2 won't effect suburbs like it does inner cities.

This question has several distinct issues. Different people have different feelings and stakes on all of these issues.

-Schools failing minority children in the cities since minorities have been attending schools. (We see how minority children actually may do well in systems with charter schools)

-Union teachers and the impact on future schools and teaching opportunities

-The privatization of public schools and the future impact of this.

-Tax monies going to these charters.

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The thing that I don't get is if charter schools work so much better than public schools (according to the proponents) why wouldn't you just advocate for turning over the entire school system of a town to that entity? I get the idea that "we want to offer a choice to parents" but really if the choice is "here is a school that kicks ass and here's one that sucks ass" why would anyone choose the later? It's not an issue of choice when the whole thing hinges on performance metrics. It's not like choosing Indian or Thai for dinner - it's which one works better for ALL the students. If charter folks think they've got the solution then they should be advocating to take over an entire city's system and show them how it's done and not just nipping at the edges.

Yeah the unions will fight it but so what? Go out to the burbs around 495 (Scott Brown country) and start there. They don't give a crap about unions. Of course maybe if you had an entire school system to deal with (ALL the students) things might not look so peachy -- either in terms of the performance metrics or ROI. The whole debate seems very contrived. Public schools need a lot of work and unions don't always help with the needed changes but there's some fundamental issues about how we view PUBLIC education as a society that is being left out of the discussion and completely buried in a load of bullshit (from both sides). When in doubt, follow the money.

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I think an easy answer is simple. Some students who fail in public schools do well in charter schools. Why not give those students an opportunity to better themselves in a school setting where they can thrive?

Public schools have already been fantastic in this country for plenty of people. Inner city minorities have not seen those benefits.

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But nobody is making big bucks by skimming the process, so the skimmers are offering a "fix".

I know ten people who sent their kids to charters in MA - eight of them are voting "no" because they see a coming tide of grift and failing schools in lifting the cap.

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Some students who fail in public schools do well in charter schools. Why not give those students an opportunity to better themselves in a school setting where they can thrive?

Those studies have shown that it's irrelevent whether the school is a charter or a good public school. Kids generally do better going to better schools, and those same kids do not bring down the better school kids.

It's an argument for getting rid of terrible schools, but its not really an argument that charter schools are the silver bullet. Better schools are.

Then there's the issue that charter schools are all over the preformance chart as well.

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The thing that I don't get is if charter schools work so much better than public schools (according to the proponents) why wouldn't you just advocate for turning over the entire school system of a town to that entity?

Because that's not what charter "educators" want. They want to be able to cherrypick their students, to take only the best and refuse those who (in their judgment) will require more time and effort and resources. If a baseball player got to cherrypick his pitches, and could simply say "nuh uh, not taking that one" and not have it count against him, and only take a swing when he felt he had a good chance of hitting a home run, you'd call bullshit on that, wouldn't you? Well, that's the basic premise of a charter school. The last thing they want is to take over an entire school district, because then, they'd have to educate the entire student body, and they don't want that.

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As I point out every time we relitigate the subject, if you can give me a single name, of a single student, at a single public school, who you can show me was removed from a charter school at a time that would be beneficial to the school (e.g. right before MCAS, right after the date where attendance dictates funding, etc.) or a school who refused entry/expelled a disabled/ESL student for a reason that wouldn't have gotten them removed from a district school, I will personally deliver the petition to the legislature to have them shut down. Which will happen immediately, as there would be far too much political hay to be made to ignore such a pristine opportunity.

If you want to argue against charters, argue on their actual merits. I'll happily talk with you about the union-busting they engage in, or the fact that they operate primarily by cycling teachers in and out quickly due to burnout. Unless you can give me the faintest shred of evidence of cherrypicking, however, I don't want to hear about it. I have yet to meet anyone who can give me a single concrete example of any of the supposed horrors visited upon students who underperform at a charter school in this state. Massachusetts does an extraordinarily good job regulating its charter network, and while I'm probably not voting Yes on 2, I also think it's wildly disingenuous to accuse them of this kind of thing.

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One kid had ADHD and impulse control issues. He was suspended repeatedly for "uniform" violations - in other words, bullshit.

Another was dyslexic and it was "suggested" that his parents send him to a special private school instead because he "wasn't contributing to the learning objectives of the school" or some such.

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Please go talk to any real BPS principal/teacher at any High School or Middle School just before MCAS times and ask where their recently arrived tranfers came from.

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As I point out every time we relitigate the subject, if you can give me a single name, of a single student, at a single public school, who you can show me was removed from a charter school at a time that would be beneficial to the school (e.g. right before MCAS, right after the date where attendance dictates funding, etc.) or a school who refused entry/expelled a disabled/ESL student for a reason that wouldn't have gotten them removed from a district school, I will personally deliver the petition to the legislature to have them shut down.

Well, Steevil, there's this thing called privacy that prevents the sharing of names, but I do in fact know of one such case (and I have no dog in this fight, my involvement with it is minimal at best). A disabled student won the "lottery" for a place at Four Rivers Charter School in Greenfield, and was turned away. That good enough for you?

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????

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A friend of mine is a teacher at a BPS middle school. Every year they receive new kids coming from charters because they "decided to leave their charter". Each kid usually comes with an IEP or has recorded behavior issues. Why do these kids show up in 7th grade and not say, 5th or 6th grade? Because 7th grade is the state PARCC test for all schools. Do you see where I am going?

So while an individual charter may only "lose" one or two students a year, making their retention rates look healthy it ignores the overall picture. Because where do all these one or two kids end up? In public school. And all of a sudden, 25% of that middle school class is new students.

Which cascades down to the teachers and their day to day as these students are not used to the school culture and expectations. Which can then take away from overall instruction time and from the other 75% of the kids in the class. Add in that it is a testing year, and these kids have a hard time assimilating/learning/growing while the charter that they left has improved their odds of strong test scores.

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Charters only get the amount of funding needed for a regular ed student. Give them the resources to educate special needs (and some are actually taking on that challenge without the extra funding) and you might see charters more responsive to this segment of the population.

This is what gets me about this argument. The NO on 2 side basically is arguing (and perhaps winning their case) on patently false information. The biggest example is that charters cost Mass publics $400 million in funding. That's only true if you assume you could take the tens of thousands of kids in charters, stick them back in public schools and not hire a single new teacher in public schools - really? So BPS could absorb 8000 new kids without hiring any new staff, buying no new books, not a single extra nurse, janitor etc.? I can't believe this kind of advertising is even legal.

I guess if you tell a lie often enough and loud enough and it's scary enough, it makes it true. Oh, wait, that works. Just ask Donald Trump.

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You wrote:

Charters only get the amount of funding needed for a regular ed student. Give them the resources to educate special needs (and some are actually taking on that challenge without the extra funding) and you might see charters more responsive to this segment of the population.

And yet, an analysis of the charter tuition formula from massbudget.org concludes:

...because the formula assumes that charters educate an equal share of special education students as those educated in district schools, when in fact they tend to educate a lower share, this provision has led many charter schools to receive a disproportionate share of a district’s special education funding.

This is actually pretty cut and dried in the chapter 70 formula. It states quite plainly that special education spending is assumed to account for the same fixed percentage of the per-pupil foundation budget for every district:

Special education in-district headcount is an assumed percentage, representing 3.75 percent of K to 12 non-vocational enrollment and 4.75 percent of vocational enrollment.

In short, charter schools are receiving the resources needed to educate special education students, whether they actually do so or not.

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I hadn't seen the funding model broken down so thoroughly anywhere else. I also did not realize how they do their per-student special-education funding calculations. I agree that that's broken, and provides an incentive for unethical school operators to discourage ELL/special needs enrollment. I'll discuss this with my wife (admin at a charter) tonight.

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I believe the Special Ed you note is what most consider traditional special ed -for physically and mentally disabled students. Perhaps special needs is a better term - referring to additional costs of ADHD, ELL, other more minor learning disabilities - like dyslexia.

Note that Boston's average cost per student as reported to the state is over $18k per year. The charter reimbursement is $15k and includes the facilities aid fee of almost $1000 which, if I'm understanding the link correctly is really just a pass through, so putting a kid in BPS costs about $4000 per kid more JUST in operating costs (to be fair - BPS is paying transit costs also which is quite material).

However - keep in mind also that the operating budget DOESN'T include external funds, capital expenses, teacher pensions, staff pensions or retirement benefits. These costs add about 40-50% to the cost of educating a BPS student meaning BPS spends about $10,000-$12,000 per pupil more than charter students.

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Can you provide a citation for your first paragraph? I know that you have looked at this extensively but as far as I know there is absolutely no nuance of this kind in the part of the charter tuition formula that deals with special education costs. If you had something for me to read I'd give it a go, but as it stands this feels a bit like I'm supposed to compare your completely unsupported and speculative-sounding paragraph against analysis done by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center and take for granted that your interpretation is more reliable.

The rest of your comment is kind of expanding the scope of the conversation a bit. I'm pretty sure you've left out some considerations (out of district SPED placements and external funding of charter schools come to mind immediately) that leave this comparison well short of being apples to apples. But I'm tired, I'm not really that interested in going down that road, and the Cubs are on the verge of either winning the World Series or blowing it more spectacularly than even the Red Sox ever managed.

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They pulled it out. Theo is officially the curse breaker. A great series - good for Chicago and the whole series was a treat for baseball fans of all stripes. A great final game (and a hat tip to the umps for that well called short rain delay).

Anyway - here are BPS numbers - check the SPED section.

http://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/Domai...

Apples to apples will be almost impossible without a team of specialized CPAs - and that's before you start accounting for populations at different grade levels etc. But you can get close. On an operating basis we'd probably eventually come to a number that BPS spends 10-15% more than charters - but to be fair - BPS has much greater SPED needs than charters - but per the notes in the linked reference - how do you define it (BPS notes 20% are SPED - but only about 1.5% are "fully segregated" - severe learning, behavioral etc. The state applies a flat rate of about 4% - which doesn't remotely match anything BPS classifies under Special Ed. adding the next higher category of SPED puts you at 7.5% of the student population). And to be fair - some SPED kids at some levels are in charters - so the 4% allocation is probably reasonable. That would be only 20 special ed students in a school of 500 kids - mostly in the inner cities.

Are charters doing what BPS is for SPED - no way. Do they have 4% depending on the definition - almost certainly - but maybe/probably not the severe cases BPS has to deal with.

Bottom line - on an operating basis - probably a wash after accounting for larger SPED needs at BPS.

The big difference that is never discussed outside this forum are all the other non-operating expenses BPS enjoys - pensions, retiree benefits, external funds, capital budget perhaps others I am not aware of? And it completely ignores any imputed value for rents. Once you account for these - several hundred million dollars - BPS has total spending about 40-50% greater than charters - and pensions are probably the fastest growing expense category.

To the point of the original post - THAT's the real risk to our credit rating - not the charters spending $15-$16k per year.

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I understand what you're saying about the credit rating, although as usual I'm just looking at it from a different perspective. A rapid expansion of charter schools and the corresponding effect it has on the budget is just something that BPS isn't set up to handle well. Scaling a school system up and down is hard, and you're right to point out that there are things about the way BPS in particular is set up may make it that much harder. But that's the situation that we find ourselves in, and when we try to make a system that works as well as possible for as many kids as possible we don't really have the option of working outside of that reality.

You clearly think we should be ramping up charter schools quickly, and that's a perfectly legitimate opinion that is held by plenty of people. But doing that alone isn't going to make BPS's structural inefficiencies go away, and in the meantime there will be real harm done in classrooms that serve thousands of kids, many of whom have an extremely high level of need. I'm not saying that you should or shouldn't support charter schools, I'm just saying that for me, railing against BPS's inefficiency isn't a particularly compelling case for rapid ed reform unless you're also willing to accept the fact that things are going to get really expensive in the short term. Hanging BPS out to dry just because you don't like the way it's structured just impacts too many kids who really need BPS to function well (and, yes, better).

It's pretty interesting to read the paragraph that Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation ended their recent report on charter school funding with:

It is important to close with a disclaimer that has been noted throughout this paper: This is a review of charter school funding under the Chapter 70 formula, which though real enough from a top-down perspective may appear hopelessly theoretical from the bottom up. ... Consolidating, realigning or moving programs – much less closing schools – is likely to be politically fraught. District budgets, heavily weighted toward personnel, may be extraordinarily difficult to cut (at least without severe damage) because of collective bargaining constraints and the fact that so many employees fulfill specialized professional roles. The analysis presented here is based on the principles embedded in the formula, and makes no attempt to address budgetary issues at the district level.

As one of those people looking at this all from the bottom up, I can't help but wonder whether, should Q2 pass, we'll get all of the tradeoffs right in both the short and long term, and how bad that "severe damage" will really be.

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In an ideal world, I agree with the idealists. We should have one outstanding school system that gives each student an excellent education based on their needs.

Unfortunately, the unions have blocked both reforms to the system and more moderate charter expansion. They've lost me (and many others) entirely because they've made it about the adults - not the kids. Not saying they shouldn't be fairly paid (they are) with decent benefits (amazing benefits).

Am I in favor of rapid expansion - not really. Just expansion. I have 100% confidence that this bill will not result in rapid expansion of the charter system - simple supply and demand. A) there are only so many adults available to put a charter school in place - it's EXTRAORDINARILY difficult - and it should be. You think it's tough to staff 600 people at Eataly? Imagine trying to find 600-1000 teachers and administrators to staff a dozen new schools (per community!) B) There's only so much demand - that demand in Boston is probably 8000 or so kids at least right now. Assuming 300 kids per school - meeting demand is a max of 30 schools or so - and that assumes you don't oversaturate/lose quality, lose demand etc. And that's before you get to the very strict regs Mass rightly puts on charters.

I have no skin in this game. I don't have kids and I don't get any profit from a single dollar of charter investment/tuition etc. There are tens of thousands of kids looking for a better option. If the unions won't give it to them, I say the collective we does. If problems crop up - they will be fixable - certainly in far less time than we can fix BPS with the obstructionist teacher's union.

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In an ideal world, I agree with the idealists.

Presumably in an ideal world it would be easy to agree with the idealists, because in that world they'd also be the realists. ;)

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And no reference to race. It's far more nuanced.

As I've stated out here before - BPS does a great job with older, academically talented kids through the exam schools. They also have ENORMOUS and quite well qualified ELL, special ed and other programs for kids with those needs (and they abound in BPS).

Where BPS seems to fail is that middle ground. Where does a younger kid that might be exam school bound go if they don't get into a "good" school. This is a real question. I don't have kids, but based on what I've heard, I wouldn't hesitate to send my kid to the Eliot if s/he got in. But at the same time, I might not send my kid to the Blackstone which is improving - but still seems to struggle in several respects. What's my choice now? Suck it up or move. That's an option for me - but might not be for a young immigrant couple for example.

We have tried, time and again, to reform BPS and while it's better than other urban districts, it's still not where a lot of other Mass schools are - especially certain schools (see the article on one being closed rather than allowing the state to take it over). Charters give those parents a choice. While some fear that BPS will be overrun by "12 new charters a year", that's actually highly unlikely. Charters are subject to certain market forces. Only so many parents will choose them plus they rely on a particular pool of teachers - young, enthusiastic, from great schools - but there may not be enough of them to go around - especially because these teachers move on after 3-5 years in a charter.

That's why the "and" is a better answer than "or". However, the purpose of this referendum (which only came about because the teacher's unions quashed reform in the state house and at the bargaining table), is to make sure that there is enough "and" to go around. Right now we are short tens of thousands of "ands" in MA.

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While some fear that BPS will be overrun by "12 new charters a year", that's actually highly unlikely. Charters are subject to certain market forces.

They're also subject to some of the strictest regulation of any schools in the country. Charter schools that underperform their public district for two years are gone, full stop--the state can and will pull their charter and close them down. Ditto for any financial shenanigans, or any of the assortment of student rights violations I see them accused of every time this subject comes up.

Massachusetts does a really, really good job of managing the public-private intersection of charter schools. Nobody's making big bucks from privatization, and students in some really bad public districts have a chance at better educational opportunities. Independent of the success of the individual schools, that's something we should be trying to encourage. I'm honestly not sure if the regulatory network will be able to handle 12 new schools every year, so I'm officially prop-2-agnostic, but this is a model of school oversight that we should hold up for the rest of the country to emulate.

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It was also an ad run in the Banner -- Boston's weekly targeted to the African-American community.

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"Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance."

I'm not against charters in principle, but I'm not voting for 2 because something odd is going on here. A lot of secret funding is pushing this.

Adrian Walker, in his pro-2 column in the Globe, remarked:

"It is true that the state’s formula for reimbursing school districts has not been fully funded by state government but untrue that charters are sucking the resources out of your child’s classroom."

So reimbursement hasn't been funded but don't worry because school districts will be reimbursed? Maybe there is some way of parsing that so that it makes sense, but it's weird. Let the legislature sort this out.

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You must mean Great Fools! and their dark money from investors in sucking money out of your tax dollars by giving you high school grads for teachers and pocketing the "savings"

Ask yourself: With Arkansas Schools being the Total Shithole that they are, why are lazy ass walmart heirs pumping money into "fixing" our best in the nation schools?

Does that make sense to you?

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Because if the ballot measure passes, then the Waltons of the world can, in two years time, point at Massachusetts and say "Look! They lifted the cap on charter schools, and now they have the best public schools in the country!" Which will technically be correct. There's a whole lot of missing pieces, of course, but if private education firms in other states can point to Massachusetts as a success story (which they will, because we started with the best schools in the country and do an excellent job of making sure no one is getting rich from our charter schools), then it will make it easier for them to set up shop in other states where things aren't nearly so well-regulated. That's my biggest worry in voting yes on 2.

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An opinion piece on the Commonwealth Magazine website makes the case, summarizing the results of 11 research studies, that the presence of charter schools in a district increases the achievement level of district school students (as well as that of the charter school students).

http://commonwealthmagazine.org/education/could-raising-charter-cap-help...

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I got this mailer at my house, and I was immediately struck by how light Obama's skin was in the photo. I wonder what the creators of the mailer hoped to accomplish by choosing a photo in which his skin looks very light (or, altering the photo to make his skin lighter)?

IMAGE(http://d279m997dpfwgl.cloudfront.net/wp/2016/11/obama-leaflet.jpg)

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It's difficult for many to take seriously the alleged effect of charters on Boston's budget when the City continues to hand out multi-million dollar tax breaks to businesses/developers who would have located or built in one of the hottest re markets in the country irrespective of those giveaways. Hell, Immelt of GE has almost admitted that numerous times by emphasizing that they came here for the WORKFORCE.

The City's coffers should be overflowing with all of these cranes in the sky and businesses cramming into town.

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Strip funding away behind the guise of helping poor kids. The public education system eventually collapses from a lack of resources. No more teachers unions. I'm not against charters but I'm against designing a system that is deliberate in its long term goal of ending public education.

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