Legislative Update: House Votes to Lift Cap on Charter Schools

MR MAGOO COLORDespite the impressive efforts of many parents (especially Boston parents!), students and teachers, the House of Representatives voted 114 to 35 Wednesday in favor of a bill that, among other things, will lift the cap on charters in the state’s so-called “underperforming” districts (determined by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, based primarily on MCAS scores). The 35 representatives who voted NO had the courage to stand up for our public schools and deserve our thanks. You can see the roll call here. Please contact them to express your appreciation. 

If this bill becomes law, Boston and other communities with large numbers of low-income students will see many more charter schools. Current law already will require these districts to transfer nearly 20% of their budgets to charter schools that have failed to serve the students who need the most support, such as students who are not fluent in English and those with significant disabilities. The district schools keep those students, while essential funds needed to help them learn go to charters. The bill includes provisions intended to make charter schools accept these students, but the current law already includes such provisions, and they have been ignored. 

This “cap lift” would apply only to the 10 percent of districts that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education declares to be the “lowest performing.” But the formula the state has chosen to make that determination says much more about the income level of the students than anything that happens inside schools. The department’s own measures of student growth play only a minor role in the formula. 

Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville), the Senate Vice-Chair of the Education Committee, who opposes the bill, had this to say: “Before we expand [charter schools] let’s make sure we have enough to meet the other priorities in our communities, let’s think about if that is the best way to spend new money in the next several years.”
Rep. Liz Malia

And Rep. Liz Malia said this: “I voted no on H4091, along with 35 of my colleagues. I opposed Rep. Peisch’s bill, because I believe that maintaining the charter cap is in the best interest of all school districts. The search for the best funding, selection and governance mechanisms for charter schools will continue to occupy the attention of the Legislature and the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education in upcoming sessions. I look forward to voting on other bills that allow local school districts to creatively meet the needs of high-achievers and at-risk students alike, in the true spirit of public education. I hope that you will continue to weigh in, as H4091 (renumbered H4108 after the House amended and engrossed it) makes its way through the Senate and possibly to the Governor’s desk.”

In his public statement explaining why he voted no, Rep. Aaron Vega, said, “My vote against H4091 was not a vote against innovation in education or the fine work being done at the Holyoke Community Charter School and the Paulo Freire School of Social Justice. It was a vote against faulty funding mechanisms and a vote for access for all Holyokers to a fine public education.”

Now the bill goes to the Senate, where it could be taken up within the next few weeks.  Contact your State Senator as soon as possible and ask him or her to tell both Senator Chang-Diaz and Senate President Murray that they will not vote for H4108 if it includes lifting the cap on charter schools. Click here to find your legislator.