The Associated Press

Mass. Lawmakers Seek Deal On Charter School Cap

BOSTON — Consensus on a bill that would allow for charter school expansion in Massachusetts remained elusive on Monday, with charter advocates saying a compromise offered up by several lawmakers would hold the schools “hostage” to state budget decisions.

The debate over whether to raise state-imposed caps on charter schools – public schools that operate autonomously from school districts – in Boston and other low-performing urban districts has been a contentious one at the Statehouse. Supporters laud the academic potential of charters, but critics, including teachers unions, argue they drain financial resources from conventional public schools.

The proposed compromise would allow the number of charter school placements to rise gradually over the next several years, but only if the state met its commitments to reimburse school districts for the financial impacts of students moving into charter schools.

“A third way is possible,” said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Education Committee. “It is possible for us to serve and care for the needs of children in the district system and in the charter system at the same time, and move forward on the same path.”

The compromise is backed by state Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston, who filed the original bill to raise the charter cap. But Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, the House chairwoman of the education committee, is on record as opposing the compromise, leaving the bill’s fate uncertain before a Tuesday deadline the panel set for taking action.

A 2010 law requires the state to reimburse school districts 100 percent of per-pupil costs in the first year after a student moves from a conventional public school to a charter school, and 25 percent in each of the following five years.

The state, however, has not fully reimbursed school districts for charter school placements in the last two years and the current state budget falls $28 million short of full funding, lawmakers said.

Under the proposal offered by Chang-Diaz and others, the cap would freeze if reimbursements fell short in future years.

Race to the Top Coalition, consisting of groups that support charter school increases, said the proposed compromise would allow lawmakers to block expansion simply by underfunding reimbursements – even by as little as $1.

“We support full funding for district schools, we just don’t want our families to be held hostage to that line in the budget,” said John Clark, co-director of the Brooke charter schools, which operate three schools in Boston and is seeking to expand.

Rafik Chaib, an East Boston resident, said his son, a second-grader, has spent two years on a waiting list for charter school placement.

“I don’t know how long we are going to wait,” Chaib said. Boston recently held a lottery for the 13,600 children seeking 2,200 available spots in charter schools.

The legislative impasse threatens to hold up aspects of the bill aimed at narrowing the student achievement gap in Massachusetts, including a provision that would give state officials more flexibility to intervene in schools that are in danger of falling into “underperforming” status.

“We should not be pitting our children against each other,” said Mariama White-Hammond, a community organizer who backs Chang-Diaz’s proposal. “This compromise says let’s put charter advocates and public school advocates in the same boat so that we can learn to row together.”

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  • gossipy

    If “traditional public schools”, that is, district schools, adopted flexibility and taught to students in the ways that the students could actually learn, then charter schools would not be necessary. District schools are entrenched politically, which hinders teachers’ ability to teach effectively.

  • disqus_TIClM2voqP

    Charter Schools have not shown to be better at educating children than traditional public schools even though the charters exclude special needs children and have been caught cooking their numbers to make their results seem better. It is incredible that as society not only do we under fund education we blame teachers for not being able to fix immense societal problems. Public schools and teachers do not need competition they need assistance from all of us. Massachusetts schools rank very well in the US and the world. We should look at what’s working and build upon it instead of creating a 2nd school system.

  • CharterTeacher

    Charter schools do not exclude students with special needs. I am a 6th-grade teacher at a charter public school. I teach seven students who are on IEPs, six who have 504s, six who are English Language Learners, one who is hospitalized with anxiety disorder and several who live in food-insecure homes. Please, don’t tell me my school does not take all comers, because we do, and we must, since we are a PUBLIC SCHOOL. I would not have it any other way.

    • John Lerner

      Actually,
      charters are private schools paid for with public money. In
      Boston,the 13.5% (charter school student) population receives 42% of
      Bostons chapter 70 state aid money. Chapter 70 aid for the state is
      $4.3 billion. The charter school thugs have noticed, and they want it
      all. It’s not about education anymore. It may have been in the past,
      I’m sure it was, but not anymore.

      • WIllard

        This would be a great argument, except that Chapter 70 money is just 20-25% of the overall Boston public schools budget, and it’s the mechanism for how charters receive basically all their dollars – since it’s how the state manages charter finances.

        It would be equally true, and equally misleading, to say that charters cost Boston property taxpayers almost nothing, relative to district schools.

      • Rudy

        Sorry I disagree with you .. I know that the Boston Public system in urban areas are not preparing students to become successful in life. The education I received in the Boston Public system was mediocre and it just got worse. If you never attended a public school in Boston you don’t know the details. Charter schools are a threat to unions who don’t care about the education I received nor my kids. Stop giving wrong information. Teachers in the Boston Public schools don’t care about kids in urban areas. I love the fact I have a choice where to send my kids to schools. We need choices not a monopoly. Just like the perfect world. The more choices we have as consumers will push the providers(educators) to do a better job.

  • jonshore

    What happened to “choice” for Massachusetts Taxpaying families that don’t live in our urban areas? Before one more charter school is opened in our urban areas, already decimated by charter schools, we need to give “choice” to those families living in toney suburbs! Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School got shot down when it wanted to open a regional charter clone and accept students from Newton, Brookline, and Weston! The Asian student population in Newton is 16.8%, Brookline’s is 18.2%, and Weston’s is 12.6%. You would think that with such large Asian populations they would welcome the opportunity to give “parents choice” of an Asian themed charter school!

    What are the Math, ELA, and Science MCAS scores of the Asian students in those communities? If there was a large exodus of Asian students, is there a risk of the districts “Level” plummeting? That would bring down real estate values! Or is there a concern that a charter school choice would reduce the programs and options that their traditional schools currently enjoy?

    Andover said no to STEAM
    Studio charter’s proposal. The
    Andover School Committee believes that funds available for education should be
    invested wisely in their existing schools in order to move Andover’s Strategic
    Plan forward. Elected officials in these suburban communities are saying no to
    charter schools. They understand how a charter school would drain resources
    from their traditional public schools. They see what is happening in Boston
    Public Schools and don’t want their schools to be turned into the two-tiered
    system that has been pushed on us by the state.

  • Garret Virchick

    I’m sorry…but there is a separate but equal tinge to the contention of Chang-Diaz that we can serve and care for the needs of children in both systems at the same time. Because corporate interests want to see charters succeed and unionized public schools to fail charters get the overwhelming amount of private foundation money targeted to schools. As long as there are dual school systems we will never build a system that works for all children.

  • CharterTeacher

    To John Lerner: please do not call another educator a thug. It should feel beneath you to resort to that, and I would hope we might have a more civil debate, especially in such as esteemed forum as this!
    I have been involved in education reform for over 15 years and still cannot believe there are people who do not understand the funding formula for charter public schools. Here it is: the exact same amount of per-pupil funding that would be spent on Student A in a traditional public school follows Student A when s/he leaves to enter a charter pubic school. Let’s say Student A gets in, when pulled from the lottery. The charter school, yes, gets that funding, as it should — since it is now that charter school which incurs the expense of educating that child! (I don’t understand why that per-pupil funding would stay back at the school the student left. That makes no sense, at least not to me.)
    Public education, publically funded. That’s us, charter schools. So, your contention that charters are private schools is patently incorrect. What I will say, since I was a fundraiser before becoming a teacher, is that someone works long, tough hours to replace the public money our founders willingly LEFT ON THE TABLE in exchange for administrative and teaching freedom, freedom that is priceless — ask any teacher worth his or her salt. That someone was me at one time, and yes, some of that money I raised (millions) came from private donors. My friends in traditional public schools are more than welcome to apply for the same private grants, hold the same special events, and solicit the same private gifts that I did, to supplement their schools’ budgets! That is how we renovated a factory to house our first school, since we were not provided a building from the city we were in. Did you know that? That charter public schools are left largely to themselves to fund facilities? True, we can jump into the competitive government grants game, and we do, but we do much more above and beyond that to provide resources for our students, all without charging tuition (no tuition? public school). We are not apologetic about raising supplementary funds from the private sector. Nor are we apologetic about accepting the per-pupil funding that rightly travels with every student whose family seeks a more fitting education option and chooses a charter public school. Please, consider visiting a charter public school. Your information and opinion seem fed by mistrust and fear, rather than the facts. Once you see the great work we are doing for the same kids you care about, you’ll realize we are on the same side.

    • jonshore

      CharterTeacher wrote, “Did you know that? That charter
      public schools are left largely to themselves to fund facilities?

      You are misinformed, in Massachusetts, Charter Schools receive an additional $893. per student for facilities. Charter schools have foundations that often own the building the school resides in and they pay rent to the foundation. QZAB Bonds and Federal New Market Tax Credits, which provide a 39% Tax Credit to investors, is often used to build or renovate these building. If the state revokes the schools charter, the state cannot claim ownership of the building or school assets because they are owned by the charter schools foundation!

      Then there is the “non-tuition” revenue. Charter Schools receive $150,000 per year of Federal start-up money for the first 3 years. Other Federal Revenues includes entitlements and grants for such as Title I funding directed to the school’s tutorial programs, Title 1, Part A/305, Title II Part A/140 Improving Educator Quality, Title II-B, Title III, (ELA for LEP students/180), Federal Special Education Entitlement/240, Title V and IDEA funding directed at the school’s Special Education program, FY13 CCLC Supporting Additional Learning Time. In calculating Federal Grants, it is assumed that 40% of the students will be eligible for free and reduced lunch. Projected percentage of special education students is 17%. From the State, additional nutritional funding, transportation reimbursements and a grant related to Academic Support Services!

      • CharterTeacher

        Thank you for those details and corrections. I would love to see that information stacked up against the same for traditional public schools, just to continue most accurately this conversation about “who gets more” and “whose kids deserve it more” (or whose teachers…). That’s really what is behind all this, who is getting gypped, or who perceives themselves to by getting gypped.

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