Massachusetts Ed Commissioner Calls For New Charters, More Seats

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Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester announced this week that he is advising the Massachusetts Board of Education to allow new charter schools in Brockton and Springfield, along with the addition of 1,500 new seats in five current charter schools, four of which are in Boston.

Peter Balonon-Rosen, reporting for the Learning Lab, says the state board will take a vote on these recommendations at its meeting on Feb. 23. If the commissioner’s recommendations are approved, they would constitute the first added seats in Boston since 2013.

The two new charters were among six finalists in this year’s applications. One school did not turn in a final petition and another removed its request. Two others received less than favorable reviews.

Twenty-two charters asked for increased enrollment or added grade levels, 14 of which were located in Boston. Those who support charter schools say charters provide a choice for parents who are displeased with the state’s traditional schools. Opponents say the publicly funded, privately managed schools take away resources and programs meant for traditional public schools.

Laws now in place state Massachusetts may channel 9% of public school district student money to fund students at local charters. That number can increase to 18% in at-risk districts like Boston before it is capped.

Charter seats can be increased because of Boston Public Schools’ largest budget ever, which amounts to over $1 billion for this school year. The generous budget, however, does not mean there are extra funds. Due to vast spending deficits, Boston closed two schools, decreased food services, and cut programs at its counseling center during the last school year.

The 2016-17 school year will be no different. The state was supposed to reimburse districts for some of the money sent to charter schools, though this payment did not completely compensate for money districts may give to charters, and the money is sometimes not given back.

Already this year, depending on the vote next week, Boston will reach its charter cap. Over the past two years, Boston Public Schools have lost $28 million in unpaid reimbursements.

In a statement on Tuesday, Chester said Libertas Academy Charter School, which will serve 630 students in grades 6-12, will be located in Springfield. New Heights Charter School in Brockton, also serving middle and high school students, will welcome 735 students. He said these schools will offer families more high-quality education choices, reports MassLive’s Michelle Williams.

Currently, 4,200 families have been placed on waiting lists for the five charter schools in the city.

The five charters that have been recommended for an expansion are planning to add grade levels that will allow them to become K-12 schools. The schools are Pioneer Charter School of Science in Everett, the Neighborhood House Charter School in Boston, and Brooke Charter School Roslindale, Brooke Charter School Mattapan, and Brooke Charter School East Boston.

The three Brooke schools have asked to be allowed to consolidate into one regional charter. Brooke is also looking into adding one high school, reports Michael Norton of WWLP-TV.

“The fundamental issue is that these are all public schools. They ought to be operating in roughly a similar fashion and there ought to be a funding mechanism that doesn’t cannibalize one to support the other,” Senate President Stan Rosenberg said Tuesday on WCAP-FM.