Hundreds of new charter school seats pitched to Ed Dept.

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As the ballot question campaign to expand charter school access heats up, six groups have proposed opening new charter schools in Massachusetts and 12 existing charter schools want to increase enrollment, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced Monday.

DESE will decide by mid-September which of the six groups interested in establishing a charter school it will invite to submit a complete proposal, with final applications due Nov. 1, DESE said. Commissioner Mitchell Chester will then decide which applications he will recommend to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for consideration in February 2017.

“Massachusetts has some of the strongest charter schools in the nation, and I am pleased that groups continue to be interested in opening and expanding schools here,” Chester said in a statement. “My agency will review these proposals carefully before deciding which ones should proceed to the next step.”

Not all of the applications could be approved, DESE said, even if the department finds the applicants to be “proven providers” and their applications to be “of a high quality.” No more than nine percent of a district’s spending may be spent on charter school tuition, though the cap is doubled for the lowest-performing districts.

Voters in November will be asked — through Question 2 — whether to allow state education officials to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions per year.

Charter supporters say the schools provide critical education opportunities to students who would lack them otherwise, while opponents say charter schools drain resources away from traditional public schools.

There are currently 81 charter schools in Massachusetts, serving over 40,000 students from over 240 different cities and towns, according to DESE, accounting for just more than four percent of all public school students. DESE said in June there are about 32,600 students on charter school wait lists.

— Written by Colin A. Young

Copyright State House News Service