Massachusetts Receives 8 New Charter School Proposals

Education officials in Massachusetts have received eight proposals for new charter schools, two of which would operate as a part of Boston’s school system.

James Varnis of The Boston Globe says that the proposals have the potential of adding 5,000 charter seats to the state. The vetting process for charter school approval is a seven-month process, and rarely do all the proposals get approved.

One-half of the proposals are for independent charter schools, and the other half are in-district charter schools, including the two in Boston.  Another proposal is being considered which would allow UP Academy Charter School to run another school, which would be its fourth site in Boston.

Interim Superintendent John McDonough said that the UP proposal was a “place holder” in case the district needs UP to help turn around a lower-achieving school. UP academies are run by the UP Education Network, a non-profit specializing in school turnaround.

“As a nonprofit, our focus is on restarting low-performing schools and transforming them into high-performing schools as rapidly as possible,” said Scott Given, UP’s chief executive.

Richard Stutman, Boston Teachers Union president, is opposed to both in-district charter school applications.

“It shows the School Department lacks confidence in its own ability to run a school,” Stutman said. “I don’t think it speaks well for the department.”

The state board will vote on the schools in February, and most will open in 2015.

Website MassLive reports that in 2010, the administration of Governor Deval Patrickraised the number of charter schools which would be allowed in the lowest performing districts.  The administration also made a number of changes to the charter school authorization process.  Since 2011, 27 new charters, which at maximum enrollment can serve 13,000 students, have been awarded by the board.

Last week, the Massachusetts Senate did not pass a bill that would have allowed more charter schools to open, writes Mary C. Tillotson of website Watchdog.  It also voted down a program which was aimed at helping the state’s lowest performing schools.   Even though Massachusetts has some of the top achieving private schools in the nation, it has capped the total number of charter schools that can open in the state and the amount of money each district is allotted for charter schools.  If the bill had passed, the state’s lowest performing school districts would have been exempted, which would have allowed them to open additional charter schools without restrictions.

The governor’s office and all legislative seats will be on the ballot in the fall.  Dominic Slowey, spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, says there will be no real difference in the makeup of the Senate, but if a governor is elected who is pro-charter, that could increase awareness and momentum in the Legislature.  Kate Apfelbaum, Peters fellow in education for the Pioneer Institute, commented.

“We looked at roughly 10,000 students who would have eventually had access to the best shot they had at education, and the Legislature couldn’t get over their alliances,” she said. “I don’t know what the main goal up there was, but in the end, that’s what we lost, and the students really lost out big time.”

Charles Chieppo, senior fellow of the Pioneer Institute, and Jamie Gass, director for the Institute’s Center for School Reform, disagree with the vote.  They say:

•100,000 Massachusetts students are relegated to underperforming district schools.

•40,000 or more students on charter waiting lists.

•Charters came within two points of closing the 20-point, wealth-based achievement gap on 2013 MCAS tests.

•In 2012, 20 charter schools finished first in Massachusetts on various tests.

•Many inner-city charters out perform affluent suburban schools.

Chieppo and Gass say that if the charter caps had been raised, the “21st century version of segregation” which is preventing poor and minority children the access to educational opportunity, could begin to be abolished.

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