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Ballot Question 2: Expand Charter Schools In Massachusetts?

BOSTON (CBS) - Question 2 on the November ballot would allow the State Board of Education to approve up to 12 new or expanded public charter schools a year.

Watch: WBZ-TV's Charter School Debate

This is the most expensive of the four ballot questions facing voters in November. According to the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, $18 million has been poured into this initiative with proponents outspending the opposition 2-to-1.

Read: 2016 Ballot Questions

Lisa Guisbond represents the group Citizens for Public Schools and she's opposed to Question 2.  She's the parent of two special needs children and believes public schools go to bat for her kids. She calls charter school enrollment too selective and argues they pose a threat to the well-being of existing public schools that educate 96-percent of the state's students.

"Even if Question 2 is defeated, there can be more charter schools opened under the current restrictions," she told WBZ NewsRadio 1030.

There is now a statewide cap of 120 charter schools with 78 in operation.

Eileen O'Connor represents Great Schools Massachusetts, one of the groups behind Question 2.

She points to the 33,000 students currently on charter school waiting lists.

"Public charter schools give parents a choice, an alternative. They are some of the best in the country as well as some of the best schools in the Commonwealth and they have demonstrated that they are closing the achievement gap," O'Connor told WBZ. She adds this initiative petition targets under-performing districts.

Money is Question 2's overriding issue.

Opponents call Question 2 a poorly constructed bill that does not have the support of a single school committee in the Commonwealth. They argue it would take money away from existing schools and give it to schools that have yet to be created.

"A bipartisan commission last year said that we're already underfunding our public schools to the tune of a billion dollars a year. We simply can't afford this. It would make Swiss cheese out of our existing schools," Guidbond says.

O'Connor disagrees.

"Charters do not drain funding from traditional public schools. We've heard this negative talking point over and over again from the special interests behind Question 2, but independent research institutions and major editorial boards across the state are weighing in and they are categorically rejecting this argument," she said.

The non-partisan policy center MassINC says the truth lies somewhere in between.

According to its Commonwealth Magazine report published earlier this month, public funding is tied to each student, but if only a few students leave a given district, that district is not necessarily able to reflect the shift in budget costs.

If passed, Question 2 would become law on January 1, 2017.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Mary Blake reports

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