The Governor's choice on charter schools

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The Governor’s proposal on charter schools does two things: It increases the cap on commonwealth charter schools for a single year in districts falling in the state’s lowest performing districts, and it changes the funding formula in a way that puts equitable funding for charters at risk.

The proposal ostensibly creates 4500 new charter seats, but stipulates a range of sub-groups that must make up 80 percent of the charter student body, including low-income, limited English proficient or special education students, or students determined to be at risk of dropping out. In addition, LEP and SPED enrollments in each new charter must exceed the sending district’s average by 5%.

The one-year limit on the time to create any new charter schools makes this proposal difficult to implement. The process would require regulations, public comment and perhaps, as noted below, legal challenges given its many restrictions.

The proposal further imposes a series of quotas on charter schools, which currently select students by lot. Many questions on this, so look for more of what it all means, if anything, in practical terms. (It is worth considering whether such restrictions are legal under civil rights law.)

My take? Keep the lotteries and forgo the quotas. Charters aren’t exam schools. Lotteries without quotas are fair and transparent. Lose the one-year time limit.

On financing, the Governor has frozen charter tuition payments at 2009 levels (for per-pupil amounts and number of students), and he separates out the charter funding into a separate line item. You could put a bullseye on that line item. All of which means:

– In the short run, there will be no funding for new schools and new students in FY10
– In the long-run, this creates a potentially separate and unequal source of funding for charters, exactly what the entire Education Reform Act of 1993 was designed to remedy.

Remember that our journey from a pretty good state on national assessments to the best in the nation was begun from a court case about unequal funding. It is hard to believe that this is the Governor’s intent.

Making this proposal workable is going to take a lot of work. Making it good will take even more.