New wave of charter school applications

Printed from:

Written by Michael Norton

Massachusetts education officials are reviewing a wave of applications for new and expanded charter schools as activists mull a ballot question lifting a cap on charters that has already been reached in places like Fall River, Lawrence and Holyoke.

The state Department of Education announced Monday it has received proposals to open 10 new charter public schools, which operate with a greater level of independence than traditional public schools.

The proposals include a grade 6-12 school that would serve up to 1,008 students in New Bedford, a K-12 school that would serve up to 1,168 students in the Fitchburg and Leominster area, and a K-12 school for up to 1,570 students in Chicopee and Springfield.

Three existing charter schools are collectively seeking to add more than 2,000 seats at two schools in Boston and one serving Holyoke, Westfield and Agawam. And 19 other charter schools have applied to expand their enrollment, including eight that want 100 or more new seats such as the South Shore Charter School (610), KIPP Academy Boston Public Charter School (588), and the Global Learning Charter Public School in New Bedford (500).

“I am pleased to see such a wide range of applications from across the Commonwealth,” Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said in a statement. “Massachusetts has a rigorous approval process, and my department will review each of these applications carefully before deciding which to advance to the next level.”

Gov. Charlie Baker made expanding access to charter schools a core theme of his 2014 campaign, but has yet to offer a proposal to lift caps on charters and the charter school expansion debate on Beacon Hill has yet to begin seven months into the new legislative session.

Charter advocates months ago signaled plans to sue the state to allow more charters and a charter cap lift ballot question is being considered ahead of a Wednesday filing deadline.

According to the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, charter schools have filed applications to add 2,700 seats in Boston, but only 668 seats are available under the cap. More than 13,000 children in Boston are on charter school waiting lists.

Public charter school proponents and supporters of traditional public schools have clashed for years over charter expansion. Charter advocates like Baker say charters are playing a key role in increasing access to high-quality education for students “regardless of zip code or income.” Critics say state funding formulas hurt traditional public schools when charter schools are established or expand.

A partial lift of caps to allow more charter schools cleared the House last session and was defeated in the Senate.

“There’s going to have to be another debate on the subject this year,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg told Boston Herald Radio earlier this year, expressing hope that opponents and proponents of charter school expansion can find common ground. “I think the two sides have really gotten dug in, and I think they need to stop talking at each other, and start listening to each other. And you might find common ground on which you can build and move forward.”

Charter schools were authorized in Massachusetts under a 1993 law and state officials describe the schools as “independent public schools” that operate with “increased freedom” and “increased accountability.”

“Once the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has awarded a charter, the new charter school has the freedom to organize around a core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method,” according to the state Department of Education. “It is allowed to control its own budget and hire (and fire) teachers and staff. In return for this freedom, a charter school must demonstrate good results within five years or risk losing its charter.”

Details of new charter applications and the application process timeline:

Copyright State House News Service