Senate rejects Baker’s approach to charter school expansion

Printed from: http://newbostonpost.com/2016/04/07/senate-rejects-bakers-approach-to-charter-school-expansion/

STATE HOUSE — An amendment mirroring Gov. Charlie Baker’s approach to charter school expansion failed in the Massachusetts Senate on a 5-30 vote Thursday afternoon.

Arguing instead for legislation tying charter school expansion to major increases in overall public education spending, Sen. Karen Spilka told her colleagues that a proposed ballot question on charters would cost $1.5 billion over six years and affect 4 percent of students in Massachusetts.

The legislation before the Senate, she said, would cost more than $1 billion over seven years and affect all students.

“I ask you, which one would you choose, to help 4 percent or help 100 percent?” Spilka said, later adding, “It benefits all of our kids.”

Sen. Dan Wolf also emphasized the bill’s goal of affecting all students, rather than what he called “special interest” legislation.

Arguing against the governor’s proposal, outlined in an amendment offered by Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport, Sen. Wolf said it would gut the bill.

Rodrigues said his amendment would allow for 12 new charter schools per year only in districts performing in the bottom 25 percent statewide and would enable districts to leverage the expertise and success of charters to close the achievement gap.

Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, who as Senate president does not always vote, cast a vote against Rodrigues’ amendment.

In his opening remarks on the bill, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said, “This is a very complicated piece of legislation.” Tarr later in the debate said the Senate bill is “unfortunately not balanced,” has “no identifiable funding source,” and features “more poison pills in it than Dr. Kevorkian’s apothecary.”

Gov. Baker, a charter school expansion proponent, has said the Senate bill offers “no relief to 34,000 students currently on a waiting list to access high-performing public charter schools and the new mandates for local spending in this proposal could place a further burden on taxpayers.”

Massachusetts school districts should be allowed to pursue charter schools if they want, House Speaker Robert DeLeo said during his annual address to House members in January.

After a bill that would have expanded available charter school seats in underperforming districts ran aground in the Senate last session, the Winthrop Democrat who helms the House has largely left the Senate to advance any legislation lifting the cap.

Debate on the bill continued after 4 p.m. on Thursday.

— Written by Michael P. Norton

Copyright State House News Service

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