Will the Gloucester mess impact the charter cap lift?

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Whether House Education Committee Chair Marty Walz was deflecting yesterday in noting that the decisions on the charter school caps may be further in the future, we can’t know. God knows she has a lot of people offering advice so a little break might be just what the doctor ordered.

The discussion of the charter cap lift seems to be premised on what we need to take out of the charters to make a “compromise” palatable to opponents, such as the superintendents (who hate losing control) and the unions (who hate losing market share). Two principles any serious agreement must include are: (1) no loss in the per-pupil education amount, and (2) no weakening of the charter authorization process.

And there is a lot of fireworks on that via the Gloucester charter school application disaster that the administration has on its hands. There’s been lots of public debate and media coverage of the Gloucester charter approval. It seems that there are freedom of information act requests from the local senator Bruce Tarr and also from a previous applicant for a charter in Brockton. In addition, we are still hearing that the Inspector General is looking into it. And an upcoming meeting in Gloucester with local and state leaders promises to be anything but warm and fuzzy.

If you don’t believe me, well, take a look at the proceedings and testimony at the September 22nd meeting of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. You can watch clips of the meeting, including segments with Chairperson Maura Banta and Secretary Reville, Sen. Tarr (R-Gloucester), Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), Mayor Carolyn Kirk (D-Gloucester), and a response from Secretary Reville.

Unfortunately, the recent brouhaha over the Gloucester approval seems to have raised questions about the charter authorization process. That is decidedly not the problem. We have a good authorization process. With the creation of the new Secretary of Education post, there is greater likelihood of political intrusion in decision-making. But there is a good short-term, practical fix to that: The Secretary should recuse himself from voting on charter approvals or closures. (Long-term, we should go back to a world where there was no Ed Secretary.)

But of course, while a short-term process fix, it will not provide an immediate fix to the loss of confidence people in Gloucester feel, whether they were pro or con on the specific Gloucester charter application. While the administration will have to put a lot of effort in rebuilding trust, let’s hope Chairperson Walz does not get sidetracked in this mess and think that she needs to recreate the authorization process.