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Editorial: Posturing on schools

September 22, 2017

The chairman of the state board of education should have been more open about how much cash he was personally donating to pro-charter school groups as they campaigned last year to expand charters in Massachusetts. But Paul Sagan’s financial support for charter schools is not a conflict that disqualifies him from chairing the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education — and the charge that it is amounts to hypocrisy on stilts.

Consider that the forces pushing for Sagan’s firing are led by unions representing public school teachers, who have waged their own years-long campaign against charter schools — and who bankrolled the successful effort to defeat the ballot question last year.

In fact, organized labor has a reserved seat on the same policy-making board that Sagan chairs. So should Ed Doherty, who represents the American Federation of Teachers, be forced to resign from that seat because AFT contributed more than $2 million to the committee that fought Question 2?

AFT and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which kicked in $8.5 million to the campaign against charters, are part of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, which is calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to fire Sagan.

The group does have a point about transparency. Sagan could have and should have made his financial support for the campaign known, although he says he relied on the groups to which he donated to comply with the law on disclosure. (One didn’t, and was issued the largest fine in state history, which led to the disclosure of Sagan’s donation.)

But it appears that Sagan complied with the law and ethics rules when he made his donations. Question 2 fell to resounding defeat. The groups lining up to challenge his leadership are avowed opponents of the Baker administration’s education policy, including its support for charter schools. Their motive here isn’t transparency — it’s undermining the credibility of the board.

In their online petition calling for Sagan’s dismissal the alliance accuses him of favoring charter school interests “over the interests of the more than 900,000 students who attend district public schools in Massachusetts.”

This presumes that supporting expanded access to charter schools is at odds with supporting public education. More of the same from the usual suspects.

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