Nearing victory on charters

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President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Duncan changed the conversation on charter schools with their call for urgent action to lift arbitrary caps on charter public schools and promote good schools via the Race to the Top competition.

The conference committee agreement on the education bill does a lot that builds on the proven performance of the Commonwealth charter school model. And the addition of 27,000 new charter school seats is vitally important.

There are two problematic provisions. The RTTT calls for states to scale up proven charter providers, such as the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) and SABIS networks. Yet one provision in the final compromise requires non-high schools to backfill open positions in the first half of the grades of operation; unfortunately, this is likely to dissuade many of these operators from multiple expansions. Furthermore, experienced charter school operators may be deterred by the bill’s provisions that limit the increase in each district’s total charter school tuition payments to 1% per year, only reaching the 18% cap in 2017.

This ‘go-slow’ provision sends a troubling signal to successful charter school operators and may prevent them from reaching adequate scale, denying tens of thousands of inner-city kids access to a quality education.

We believe urban students, having waited 17 years since the original Education Reform Act, have waited long enough.

The bill has been passed by the Senate. It will soon be passed by the House.

We urge the Governor to return the bill with amendment, correcting the flaws in each section and ensuring that the bill achieves its stated goal of addressing the achievement gap.

After all, the crucial question is: Will proven school operators come en masse to Massachusetts? If not, the bill will have failed in its purpose.