BOSTON – After hours of arduous debate the state Senate passed a bill Thursday tying an increase in the funding of charter schools in Massachusetts to a multi-million-dollar boost in public education spending.
In a session that ran into Thursday night, senators voted 22 to 13 for the measure that would allow an incremental increase in the amount districts with poor academic performance are permitted to fund charter schools expansion.
In a bid to win support from public school advocates, the bill would increase money allocated to public schools in the state budget over a seven-year period.
After hours of debate and 52 amendments to the bill, senators attached an amendment that would require a district’s local school board or city council to approve new charter schools.
“This bill addresses concerns we’ve heard before that charters are funded at the expense of public schools,” Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, told the Senate. “This budget puts them both in the same budget bucket.”
Spilka, who introduced the legislation with several other senators, said the bill would require more than $1 billion total over seven years to implement, but would benefit 100 percent of public school students in the commonwealth — not just the 4 percent in charter schools.
A charter school is a publically funded school independent from the local school system.
There are two charter schools in MetroWest. The Advanced Math And Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough enrolled 989 students in the 2015-16 school year, out of 4,484 total students in the district. Framingham’s Christa McAuliffe Charter School enrolled 402 students this school year, compared to 8,478 students total in the district, according to the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
The bill would increase the percentage of net spending that districts scoring in the bottom 10 percent of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests are allowed to pay in charter school tuition payments. Reimbursements that a district must pay a charter for each student it enrolls would rise from 18 to 23 percent over a 10-year period.
For the increase to occur, charter schools would have to meet a number of additional requirements related to admission, retention, and oversight.
Dominic Slowey, a spokesman for Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said the bill’s stringent requirements for charter schools make it an ineffective way to increase the cap on tuition payments.
“It (the bill) does nothing for the 34,000 kids that are stranded on charter school waitlists,” said Slowey.
Charter schools have become a contentious issue in Massachusetts, where voters are likely to see a ballot question in November’s election that would allow 12 additional charter schools to open within the state each year.
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