Charter School Caps Looking for Big Lift in Texas, Massachusetts
The push for a voucher or tax-credit scholarship program in Texas earlier this year may have died a swift death, but Lone Star lawmakers are giving serious consideration now to lifting the cap on charter schools. And their compatriots in Massachusetts are eyeing a similar move, although there's a split there between Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and teachers' unions.
Right now in Texas, there's a cap of 215 charters that the state can grant to operators. Although an organization can use one charter to operate multiple schools in Texas, there are still fewer charter schools in the state (506) than in Florida, which has 579 charter schools operating in the 2012-13 year despite Florida's significantly smaller student enrollment. Sen. Dan Patrick, a Republican who leads the Senate Education Committee and failed in his tax-credit push, is also behind the legislative effort to lift the charter cap. Patrick's bill, which passed the Senate April 11, would raise the cap from 215 up to 305 by Sept. 1, 2019. If the current proportion of charters granted to charter schools opened is maintained, 305 charters would lead to about 718 charter schools in the state, although that number could change wildly especially if a big charter-school management group opens shop in Texas.
Patrick and other lawmakers attended a May 8 rally to support lifting the charter cap, as the House considers its own bill to grant more charters. (Patrick's original senate bill would have done away with a cap altogether.) The House bill is less generous, lifting the cap from 215 to 275 by 2019, although in practical terms that could amount to vastly fewer numbers of charter schools. The senator reminded the audience at the rally that in 2009 and 2011, similar legislation passed in the senate but flopped in the house. Remember, charter schools have been agitating for more influence in Texas for some time now—charters filed their own lawsuit last summer claiming that the state did not adequately support them.
Meanwhile, in the Bay State, Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat, is pushing to lift the cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Boston. In Massachusetts, there are charters that answer to the state, and "in district" charters that, in Boston's case, answer to a city committee whose members are appointed by the mayor. Menino wants to expand the number of "in district" charters, but not, apparently, the number of charter schools overseen by the state. Right now, Boston has 22 such charters, but there's a waiting list of about 25,000 students seeking a place in them.
Menino drew heavily on a Stanford CREDO study showing significant learning advantages for students at Boston charters compared to their peers in regular public schools (that study has its share of detractors, however). The study also has a separate section on Massachusetts charter schools not limited to Boston, and charter advocates in the state are for lifting a state cap created in a 2010 law on all charters schools throughout the state. Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, hasn't weighed in on whether to lift the state charter cap.
There's also a poll, commissioned by Education Reform Now, that purports to show that 73 percent of 445 Boston residents polled support charter schools (the number rose to 89 percent among black women who were polled). However, as the blogger edushyster pointed out, the same poll showed that the top concern for the city's education system was "budgets cuts and lack of funding" which many see as at odds with or very different from the mission of charter supporters. (Budget fears tied for the top concern in the poll with "lack of parental involvement.")