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Baker Wants More Charter Schools While Mass. Owes Millions to School Districts

Thursday, August 20, 2015

 

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has made it a goal for his administration to provide the state with more charter schools and condense the lengthy waiting lists of students hoping to attend those schools.

"Increasing access to high-quality education is essential, especially for families in underperforming districts, if we are to ensure that every child, regardless of zip code or income, has the ability to attend a great school and realize their full potential,” said Baker.

In early August, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that they received proposals from 10 groups seeking to open charter schools in the state and an additional 19 schools have applied to increase enrollment.

As GoLocalWorcester reported earlier this week, the addition of three of the 10 proposed charter schools in Central Massachusetts could cost the Worcester Public school district upwards of $30 million annually by 2017. The Worcester school district currently loses out on $22 million annually.

Massachusetts law requires that the public school district pay tuition for a student that chooses to attend a charter school rather than a public school. For example, the Worcester public school district currently pays roughly $10,000 in per student living in the Worcester district that attend charter schools (more than 2,000 students).

In turn, the state is required to reimburse these districts 100% of the student’s tuition in the student’s first year, and 25% of the tuition each of the next five years.

However, according to Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), those reimbursements have not been fulfilled and school districts are only receiving a small percentage of what they’re owed from the state.

“That line item has not been fully funded for the past three years, and this year is funded at less than 60% of the amount that is required,” said Jehlen. “It's short almost $50 million.”

In fact, the state’s combined public school districts are projected to receive $47 million, but are entitled to more than twice that amount ($101 million).

Worcester Not Receiving Promised Funding

Take Worcester, for example. Over the past three fiscal years, Worcester’s school district paid over $70 million in charter school tuition and was set to be reimbursed nearly $4.5 million.

However, due to under funding, Worcester only received $2.5 million - $2 million less than the state’s requirement - including a measly $54,000 at the end of FY2015.

“I believe that public education is to provide the best education as possible in the schools and encourage parents to have the Worcester Public Schools as their school of choice. Charter schools receive public money based on the number of students they enroll and it is a drain on public education, without a doubt,” said School Committee member and GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™ John Monfredo. “They use public funds without public oversight and because of state control, local communities are denied the ability to reject them.”

Heading into FY2016, Worcester is projected to pay $24.8 million in charter school tuition and receive only $334,110 - nearly $1 million less than the district is entitled to.

Across the state in FY2015, school districts paid $411 million in charter school tuition payments. These districts were entitled to $76.5 million in reimbursements from the state, but only received $41 million.

What’s Baker’s End Game?

As of July 2015, nearly 50,000 applicants are on the waiting list for Massachusetts charter schools - and 30,000 student are currently enrolled in charter schools.

Since being on the campaign trail, Baker has been adamant about lifting the cap on the charter school waiting list.

Baker contends that lifting the cap increases the availability of high-quality education to more students in Massachusetts.

In his first day in office, Baker announced that lifting the cap would be a priority for his administration.

The state’s teacher’s union, the Massachusetts Teacher’s Association (MTA), adamantly opposed Baker’s announcement due to their view that charter schools remove much-needed funding from public schools districts.

“Public education is the foundation of democracy, and as such must adhere to deeply democratic principles. Charter schools undermine that vision, substituting market-driven practices for democratic engagement,” said MTA President Barbara Madeloni.

“Our legislators have established charter school caps for good reason. After an initial period of reimbursement, charter schools drain millions of dollars from local public schools, depriving students of needed resources,” Madeloni added.

 

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