Boston Reaches Agreement Between City, Charter Schools

In a historic agreement, Boston public schools have agreed to cooperate better with the independent charter schools in the city in order to improve the quality of education available to Boston kids, the Boston Globe reports. Although the agreement, which included information-sharing programs, passed with a 5-2 vote, not all of the responses were purely positive. A controversy arose over a clause in the new agreement that would make it easier for charter schools to lease abandoned public school buildings from the district. The charter school opponents argue that this will allow charters to spread more easily in a city that’s notorious for its tight real-estate market.

The agreement was the work of the Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was instrumental in getting both sides to the negotiating table. Now that the agreement has been passed, he plans to sign it at a ceremony to be held in Roxbury.

“I’m looking forward to working with the superintendent and the charter schools to make sure the compact is implemented to the letter of the law,’’ Menino said before the meeting.

The signing ceremony is part of an orchestrated campaign by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has been pushing cities nationwide to form such agreements.

The Gates Foundation will donate $100,000 to Boston to assist the city in implementing the compact.

The compact is a significant step forward for both the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts who have been at odds for more than a decade over charter school questions. Public school administrators accuse charters of only admitting the best and brightest of Boston’s students and failing to admit enough special-education or foreign-born students. The Boston Teachers Union protested that charters force the hardest-to-educate students like those with autism and other special needs into over-crowded and underfunded district special ed programs.

“Charter schools want to say they embrace special education students but sign a compact that allows them to push them back to the city’s school system,’’ Richard Stutman, the union’s president, said before the meeting. “It’s a one-way compact. The city gets very little and gives a lot.”

Boston is one of several districts to receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to work on a collaboration scheme between the city’s public schools and charter schools. According to EdWeek.org, Central Falls, R.I, and Sacramento, California also recently received Gates grants to work on similar agreements.

The basic idea behind the initiative is to better integrate charters and traditional public schools to create an exchange of best practices, and to ease tensions about such issues as facilities and supports. The districts still have to formally apply for the Gates funding, but they can win up to $100,000 once they do.