The Massachusetts Senate’s charter public school bill is disappointing for education reform and the hopes and aspirations of urban school children in the Commonwealth. Unlike the Senate bill that largely became the landmark 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, which had no charter school caps, this Senate bill is intended to stifle the equality of educational opportunity offered by Massachusetts charter public schools, not expand it.
Any objective observer knew what to expect from Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Patricia Jehlen, two long-time and unrelenting opponents of charter schools. What is remarkable is that Senator Dan Wolf could sign on to a “What-is-good-for-me-is-not-good-for-thee” bill. Senator Wolf has children who directly benefited from attending a charter school, a public school that they could freely apply to via a public lottery. The Senate Committee seemed not to care about the 34,000 mostly urban students on the statewide waitlist. This deeply flawed Senate bill seems more focused on politics, money, and bureaucratic control than on education or basic fairness.
The Senate bill’s deficiencies are as follows:
- This bill envisions an anemic five percent increase in the number of charter schools over 10 years. Past legislation envisioned a five percent increase over five years – a level that would only allow for the expansion of a handful of existing charters and few additional schools.
- This bill ignores the 30,000-plus children on the charter school waitlist; it indeed appears that those students and their families are of secondary concern to entrenched special interests on Beacon Hill.
- This bill establishes an easy mechanism for the legislature to put a moratorium on future charters, by not fully funding state reimbursements to districts whose students choose to leave for a charter school.
- Finally, the Senate already sidestepped the issue of whether it could realistically fund the massive increase in appropriations that it calls for. There needs to be a deeper public discussion, including municipal officials, regarding the long-term financial implications in this proposed legislation.
The Senate’s abdication of leadership on the charter school issue seems intended to drive the Commonwealth toward an expensive and contentious ballot conflict this November.