Massachusetts charter school bill revived

Part 76 of 76 in the series Educating America

REVIVED: The 40,000 students on Massachusetts’s charter school waiting list have another chance.

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

A Massachusetts charter school bill, thought dead, was revived Wednesday morning.

“We’re still hopeful we can work something out,” said Dominic Slowey, spokesperson for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.

The bill would expand the charter school cap, which would allow more students to attend charter schools, which are public schools run without many of the regulations imposed on traditional district schools.

Currently, 40,000 students are on charter school waiting lists, Slowey said, and 81 charter schools are open. In Boston, 17,000 of the 55,000 students in district schools are hoping for access to charter schools.

The bill had languished in the education committee, where members didn’t reach an agreement by the deadline, so it recommended the full Legislature not consider the bill. Leadership in the Legislature reversed the decision and sent the bill to the House Ways and Means committee. The bill must pass both houses and land on the governor’s desk by July 31, the end of the legislative session, to become law.

“The (charter) schools are demonstrably high-performing schools, proven successful in bridging achievement gaps,” said Jamie Gass, director of the center for school reform at the Pioneer Institute.

A Stanford study found that typical charter school students in Boston made significant learning gains beyond their peers in district schools. A school year in a Boston charter school effectively resulted in 12 months of additional reading learning and 13 months of additional math learning, the study found.

Slowey attributed charter schools’ excellence to the state’s high standards and tough process for authorization. Those wanting to start charter schools must show competence in running schools and managing finances.

“The standards and accountability in Massachusetts, if it’s not the best it’s certainly among the best,” he said. “Only highly qualified applicants get a charter, so we have a very good system here of weeding out applicants.”

Charter schools receive about 30 percent less funding per student than district schools, said Kara Kerwin, president of Center for Education Reform.

Critics argue that public charter schools drain money from district public schools, but Massachusetts’s “impact aid” program requires that the state pay a student’s per-pupil cost to the district during the first year that student attends a charter school. The district receives money for a student it is not educating — 100 percent the first year and 25 percent for several years afterward.

The state hasn’t been fully reimbursing over the past couple years, Boston.com reports, and the bill would have allowed the cap to rise as long as the state is fulfilling its reimbursement commitments.

The cap, which limits the number of charter schools that can open in the state and limits the funding school districts can allocate for charter schools, is one of the more onerous burdens in the charter school law, Kerwin said.

While Massachusetts’ charter schools perform well, the state was ranked 25th in the country for the quality of its law in CER’s rankings.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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