A t a recent MTA staff meeting, MTA Executive Director-Treasurer Ann Clarke was candid. “Many people thought we
were nuts to take on Question 2,” she said.
In early 2016, the forces arrayed in favor
of lifting the state’s cap on charter schools were
Early polls had the “yes” side winning by a
Business and hedge fund leaders backing
the campaign announced in January that they
were prepared to spend $18 million to win. They
eventually spent about $26 million, roughly twice as
much as the “no” side spent.
Governor Charlie Baker strongly supported the
ballot initiative, and at the time he had the highest
approval rating of any governor in the country.
By contrast, the “no” camp was a relatively
new coalition of unions, social justice organizations,
student activists and parent groups working under the
Save Our Public Schools umbrella.
But the SOPS campaign had a secret
weapon: more than 110,000 MTA members and
another 25,000 American Federation of Teachers
Massachusetts members who are respected teachers,
education support professionals, college faculty and
staff and retirees. And they were working alongside
groups that had deep ties to their communities.
“We knew from the start that we could never
outspend them, but that we could — and must —
beat them on the ground,” said MTA President
Barbara Madeloni. “We also knew that getting
members involved was the only way to build a
stronger union and a more lasting coalition with
The final vote on Question 2 was 62 percent
opposed to 38 percent in favor. The lopsided victory
was national news, especially since it was a bright
spot of progressivism in an election that shocked
much of the world with the election of Donald
Trump as president.
T he “yes” vote won in only 16 of the state’s 351 cities and towns. Most of the 16 are affluent communities — including Weston,
Wellesley, Dover and Lincoln — that lose little or no
money to charter schools.
“The ‘yes’ campaign greatly underestimated
how much people care about their local public
schools,” Madeloni said. “The voters made it clear
that they don’t want to divert more money from true
public schools to unaccountable privately run charter
schools that do not serve all students.”
The MTA’s first task was to inform members
about the issue. The three key points were that
charter schools already drain more than $450 million
a year from public schools, are not accountable to the
local communities that pay for them, and fail to serve
as many special needs students and English language
learners as the district public schools.
Stoughton Teachers Association President John
Gunning said that the messages worked. “Sometimes
I would talk to people who would tell me they don’t
have kids in the schools, and I would say, ‘Yes, but
you are a taxpayer, so you have skin in the game.
Your tax dollars are being spent on schools that are
not required to meet the same standards as the public
schools and your public officials do not have any
oversight over them,’” he said.
Gunning’s local was involved early, meeting
before school was out in 2016 to plan for the
“We knew this was going to be a big fight,” he
said. “We tried to mobilize as many people as we
could with the intention of getting active as soon as
Labor Day hit.”
He estimated that 35 to 40 of his local’s 350
members participated in an organized activity such
as phone banking or canvassing, while many others
informally spread the word to friends and relatives.
A helpful step was getting the School Committee
to pass a resolution against Question 2 about three
weeks before the election.
“That was important,” Gunning said. “As an
association we haven’t always agreed with the
superintendent and School Committee. When people
in town heard that we were all in agreement on this,
that made a big difference.”
In the end, 215 school committees voted to
oppose Question 2, and not one voted in favor.
T he SOPS campaign recognized early on the power of having individual educators reach out to voters.
“When I talked to voters on the phone, I often
heard people say, ‘I plan to vote against that ballot
question because my niece or nephew or daughter
or neighbor who is an educator told me it will hurt
our local schools,’” said MTA Vice President Erik J.
Champy. “It is hard to quantify the impact of those
conversations, but we know they were very, very
One challenge was to increase the volume of
those conversations by having members join phone
banks or canvasses.
Above, MTA President Barbara
Madeloni spoke to activists
who gathered in Boston on
Election Night to celebrate the
landslide win by the No on
Question 2 campaign. Among
those on stage with her were
Steven Tolman, left, president
of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO,
and MTA Vice President Erik J.
Champy. In the photo at left,
Alexizendria Link, a teacher at
North High School in Worcester
and a former charter school
teacher, addressed the crowd.
Photos by Scott McLennan