Massachusetts Continues to Battle Over Charter School Cap

(Photo: Rosenberg Committee)

(Photo: Rosenberg Committee)

The Massachusetts state legislature has introduced a new proposal in an effort to appease both sides of the charter school debate by increasing the charter cap currently in place while also tying it to additional funding for traditional public schools.

However, the proposal does not appear to be popular, as State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg has noted the progress on issue has made a “dead stop” in the Legislature.

In an attempt to put a stop to a referendum that could increase the charter cap in the state more quickly, the RISE Act passed through the Senate in April, allowing the state’s cap on charter schools to increase by half a percentage point each year.  The bill was tied to annual increases of $200 million in state funding for public education in low-performing school districts, which will continue for the next seven years.  In all, districts will receive $1.4 billion from the bill, writes Tom Relihan for The Recorder.

While an amendment that would have increased the cap by 12 schools per year in the lowest-performing school districts did not pass, a separate amendment, under greater controversy, did pass, which will offer local school committees the authority to determine whether its district will pay for students who enroll in charter schools.

The bill would also focus on increasing the amount of transparency that exists around charter school operations – a move to appease charter school opponents who are concerned with the level of public accountability related to charter schools.  While charters are required to provide an annual report outlining its finances, capital projects, and work toward achievement goals and make these reports publicly available, the bill would also require the schools to disclose discipline policies, contracts, and meeting minutes.  Charter schools do not currently need to make this information available to the public, although public schools do.

In addition, the lottery system currently used to select which students will be able to enroll in charter schools would no longer be used, which requires parents to personally apply for their child.  The new system will automatically include all students whether they have applied to the school or not, but it will allow parents to opt their child out.  The change comes as an effort to ensure that all students have the opportunity to enroll in a charter school despite economic status or home circumstances.

In support of an increase to the charter school cap in the state, pro-charter school group Great Schools Massachusetts has collected over 20,000 signatures.  The issue will be decided upon by voters in November, writes Heather Kays for Watchdog.org.

“Massachusetts is home to the best charter schools in the nation, with a proven, 20-year track record of closing the achievement gap in underperforming school districts,” Eileen O’Connor, spokesperson for GSM, said.  “But today, almost 33,000 children are stuck on waiting lists to attend public charter schools in Massachusetts because of an arbitrary and outdated cap on enrollment. The effort to lift the cap is important so that every parent can choose the best public schools for their children.”

The number of charter schools currently allowed in the state is set at 120.