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Lifting Charter School Caps: Proposed Bill One of Three Initiatives in Massachusetts

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Gov. Charlie Baker proposes bill to lift charter school caps.jpg

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced Thursday that he's going to propose legislation to lift a cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open in the state.

The bill would round out a three-pronged push by advocates, which also includes a ballot initiative and a lawsuit, to raise the statewide limit on charter schools.

"This legislation puts mechanisms in place to make sure that charter schools are able to—and do —serve more of the students they aim to educate, including low-income students, English Language Learners, and students with learning disabilities," Baker said in a statement, highlighting common criticisms of charter schools both locally and nationally.

Baker's bill would allow 12 new schools to open (or existing ones to expand) each year beyond the current cap, while concentrating growth in the lowest-performing districts.

There are around 80 charter schools in Massachusetts, and although the statewide cap is set at 120, some areas have already hit their regional limits. 

"In many large urban communities, particularly Boston, we have reached the cap," said Marc Kenen, the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. "We have 37,000 students on the waitlists across Massachusetts, and 13,000 on our waitlists just in Boston."

A state House bill to raise the cap last year died in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Teachers Association is throwing its support behind a separate piece of legislation that would place a three-year moratorium on new charter schools.

But the president the Boston Teachers Union, Richard Stutman, says he's worried these efforts, especially the ballot initiative, are shaping up to attract significant out-of-state money.

"I don't think we would try, nor do I think we can match, the corporate dollars that will flow in on this issue," he said. "We would just try to get our message out."

Although a majority of people in Massachusetts support keeping the charter cap in place, according to a 2014 poll by the Boston Globe, it's not by a wide margin—47 percent of participants surveyed supported the current limits while 43 percent opposed them.

Related:

Photo: Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced at Brooke Charter School in Mattapan that he plans to file legislation to lift the state's cap on charter schools. —Joanne DeCaro/Office of Governor Charlie Baker


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