A near-capacity crowd packed the McCormack Theatre on Tuesday afternoon for the first in a series of debates addressing the ballot questions facing Massachusetts voters in the November 8 election.
The debate series, co-sponsored by UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, The Boston Globe, and WBUR, is designed to address the issues that directly impact the Bay State.
“Yeah, there’s a presidential election going on, but in November Massachusetts voters will be asked to decide on four ballot questions that could arguably have a more immediate and intense impact on life here in this state,” said Meghna Chakrabarti, host of WBUR’s Radio Boston, who served as debate co-moderator along with Globe political reporter David Scharfenberg.
Tuesday’s opening debate addressed perhaps the most controversial of the four questions: a proposal to raise the limit of the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools that can operate in the Bay State.
Marty Walz, a former Democratic state representative, represented the Great Schools Massachusetts group, which supports raising the cap on charter schools. Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, chairman of the council’s Committee on Education, represented Save Our Public Schools, which opposes the increase. (Read more about the issue here.)
Walz and Jackson set the tone for a high-energy debate that was polite but pointed, and supporters from both camps contributed to a lively atmosphere.
Jackson praised the “great, innovative work” underway in the Boston Public Schools, citing the Nathan Hale School in Roxbury and the Joseph J. Hurley School in the South End. In Boston, he said, Question 2 would redirect badly needed money from public schools to charters.
“We need those resources to close that achievement gap, and we are moving forward and doing a better job on a year by year basis,” Jackson said.
Walz said Boston spends more per public school student than any other major city, and said efficiency, not funding, is a greater concern. She also dismissed concerns that charter schools do not have sufficient local control, noting new state regulations on charters and a long record of public school underperformance.
“It is local control that got us into the situation we’re in where tens of thousands of children are being left behind by their local district schools. The reason charter schools exist is because local school districts have wholly failed to educate too many children in this state," she said.
Chancellor J. Keith Motley opened the afternoon by noting the significance of hosting the debate series at UMass Boston.
“I couldn’t think of a better place for this debate on education than here at the University of Massachusetts Boston, the capital city’s public research university and home to a College of Education and Human Development that is a top provider of teachers who lead classrooms in Boston and beyond,” he said.
Tuesday’s debate was broadcast live on Radio Boston and live streamed at umb.edu. To watch the debate now, visit the UMass Boston YouTube channel.
Debates on the other ballot questions will be held on the next three Tuesdays. Doors for each session will open at 2:30 p.m.
Scheduled debates on the other ballot questions are as follows:
Tuesday, September 20 – Question 3: would regulate the treatment of farm animals
Tuesday, September 27 – Question 1: would allow for an additional slots gambling parlor
Tuesday, October 4 – Question 4: would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.