Charter School Debate Reignites

Charter schools in Boston held their annual lotteries this week. Fourteen of the schools did it on the same day to highlight the demand.

This year, about five thousand children registered for the lottery, hoping to win one of the one thousand seats in Boston's publicly funded charter schools. It was the highest demand ever.

But not everyone agrees the state should increase the supply of charters. And, with the change of leadership on Beacon Hill, the debate over these schools is heating up again. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.TEXT OF STORYMONICA BRADY-MYEROV: At City on a Hill charter school in Boston seven hundred kids applied for ninety spots in next year's 9th grade class. About fifty people came to the school Wednesday to watch the lottery.MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Two community leaders drew names from a clear bucket while hopeful families tried not to betray any emotion. In the hallway, Alicia Lewis found out she got in.

ALICIA LEWIS: I feel like I could scream but I can't scream so.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Her mother, Sheron White from Dorchester says she wouldn't want her daughter in a regular public school.

SHERON WHITE: The charters give them a better opportunity a little more than a public school you know because there are less kids in the class room so it stands a better chance.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Demand has outgrown charter school desks for several years. With a new governor it's expected the debate to lift the cap on the number of charter public schools and change the funding formula will resume.

Charter school supporters hope a better relationship between Governor Deval Patrick and the legislature will result in allowing urban districts that are near the cap, such as Boston and Lawrence, to create more charter schools. Charters typically have longer schools days, smaller class sizes and are independently managed. Mark Kenan head of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association says parents are drawn to charters because studies show kids do better.

MARK KENAN: The study done this summer by the Massachusetts department of education found that 30% of our schools were significantly outperforming their local sending districts, 60% were doing the same and only 10% were doing less well.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: On the other side of the debate are district schools and many public school teacher who believe charters drain resources. Boston school superintendent Michael Contompasis says charters have an unfair advantage because they don't have unionized teachers or other management constraints.

MICHAEL CONTOMPASIS: What is it that may be standing in the way of the public schools being able to compete on a level playing field? There aren't going to get enough charters out there no matter how high you lift the cap so we have to look at public schools and see what it is that may be attracting parents to turn to charters?

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The primary tension between district schools and charter schools is funding. Currently when a student leaves a district school for a charter public school the district pays 100% of the funding to the district school and the charter school. The pay out declines over the next two years to nothing. But district schools say they still need funding to pay for buildings and teachers.

A group of business leaders in favor of more charter schools has proposed changing the formula to let the district keep 35% of the students funding while the charter gets 100%. Paul Sagan, President of Akamai Technologies helped create the formula because he says many in the business community believe the economic viability of the state depends on well educated children.

PAUL SAGAN: We believe innovation in schools will come from some competition and charter public schools is one way to get that.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: But on the other side of the funding argument is Anne Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which doesn't support charters. Wass says charters aren't promoting innovation; they are forcing larger class sizes and fees in public schools.

ANNE WASS: The charter schools drain money away from the regular public schools. And our concern with that is that if more students are going to charter schools in a district and the money for each one goes with it, it hurts the children who are left behind in the public schools.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV Governor Deval Patrick said during the campaign he supports charter schools but doesn't want to lift the cap until the funding formula changes. His administration is refusing to detail his plans for charter schools.

For WBUR I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.

This program aired on March 9, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.


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