Baker: Charter debate boils down to disruption, control, funding

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STATE HOUSE — Gov. Charlie Baker, who earlier this week testified in support of his bill to expand access to charter schools, said Thursday that he views the fight over whether or not to expand access to charter schools as being about disruption in education, the funding formula for schools and local control.

Likening it to the fight over transportation companies like Uber, Baker said part of the battle is that charter schools have disrupted the traditional public school model.

“I do think some of it is like Uber, okay, some of it is a fight about the old model and the new model,” he said during his monthly “Ask the Governor” segment on WGBH. “A lot of people who believe the old one is good and the new one is not. And some people believe the old model is bad and the new one is good.”

Baker, a former board member for the Phoenix Charter Academy Network, has filed a bill to allow the addition of up to 12 new charter schools or expansions annually above existing caps.

Some opposition to charter schools, Baker said Thursday, stems from the fact that charter schools are regulated by the state, which upsets people who argue that cities and towns ought to have control over the schools in their community.

“If you’re the mayor or you’re on the school committee in any city in (Massachusetts) the fact that the charter schools are regulated by the Commonwealth and not by the school committee and the mayor is a problem,” Baker said. “I totally get that and understand that.”

Also at issue, he said, is the funding formula for public and charter schools. Charter school opponents contend that charter schools divert funding from traditional public schools. Baker said his administration is “perfectly happy to work with people to try to figure out what is the consequence of the money as it moves around,” but noted that “I’m on my side of it and others are on the other.”

The Senate last session rejected legislation expanding access to charter schools and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg is hosting private caucuses of all senators in an attempt to determine by Thanksgiving whether there’s enough support to draft charter expansion legislation and try to pass it through the Senate.

“He’s taking this pretty seriously,” Baker said of Rosenberg, adding that Education Committee Co-chair Sen. Sonia Chang Diaz “made quite clear that she would like to work with people on this one.”

While charter critics asserts expansion of charters will erode the ability of traditional public schools to serve students, Baker touted the academic achievement gains since passage of the landmark 1993 education reform law that introduced new students assessments, education standards and funding.

“There’s a ton of great evidence out there” about system-wide gains in education in Massachusetts, said Baker, including the state’s improved performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

A group called the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance, which includes the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts, the Boston Teachers’ Union, Citizens for Public Schools, Fair Test, and Jobs with Justice, has mounted an aggressive anti-charter campaign.

The alliance asserts that funding steered to charter schools is exacerbating problems associated with overall underfunding of education. Charter schools are unaccountable to local officials, according to the alliance, feature high suspension rates and use “hyper-disciplinary” policies that are at odds with district schools that give students second and third chances.

— Written by Colin A. Young and Michael Norton

Copyright State House News Service