Charter School Bill Proposes Expansion, More Funding

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

A new bill has been unveiled by leaders of the Massachusetts state Senate that would create major changes to the way that charter schools operate.

The proposed bill, which adds $200 million to education spending each year, would also lift the cap on charter schools in low-performing districts in the state while at the same time tying the cap lift to an increase in funding for district public schools.

“It was our goal to ensure this discussion focused on 100 percent of the children in public education in Massachusetts,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst.

Public school representatives applauded the bill, saying that it would reform the charter school system in a number of areas including the transparency of governance and representation of parents on the school board, writes Shira Shoenberg for MassLive.

At the same time, charter school representatives argued the bill did not do enough in terms of lifting the cap and would potentially put a stop to charter school growth in the state.

“Today the Senate turned a blind eye to families desperate for better public schools,” said Eileen O’Connor, a spokeswoman for Great Schools Massachusetts, a coalition advocating for a ballot question that would lift the charter school cap. “This bill cripples the best public charter schools in the country, and abandons 34,000 students, almost all of whom are low-income children of color.”

The bill was created as a response to a proposed ballot question that would approve up to 12 new charter schools each year outside the cap, with low-performing districts being given priority.  The ballot question pitted charter school advocates against teachers’ unions., with advocates arguing that there are 34,000 students on charter school waiting lists, while unions said charter school expansions would take more resources away from public schools.

Controversy has shrouded charter schools due to many of them not being unionized and because they have more autonomy than public schools.  Critics of charters have also suggested that the schoools could have lasting effects on the budgets of local public school districts, because students who enroll in charters take thousands of dollars in state aid with them that would have gone into the public school system.

However, the proposed bill seeks to offer some relief for those criticisms.  For example, charter operators will not be able to open new schools if their student suspension rates are higher than they are in surrounding school districts, reports David Scharfenberg for The Boston Globe.

Critics feel that charters are too quick to turn to suspending students, which they say alienates those children from school.  However, charter operators argue that they use the technique as “time outs” in an effort to create the a safe school culture because that is what many parents are looking for.

Parents and teachers would also be required to serve on charter school boards under the new bill.

While Governor Charlie Baker is in favor of increasing the number of charter schools in the state, he said that the proposed bill would increase the burden placed on taxpayers without solving the problem of the long waiting list of students looking to enroll in a charter school.