The Charter School Cap

The controversy about the cap on charter schools is heating up again. An email that is representative of those I have been receiving appears further below.

I’m waiting to see what comes out of the Education Committee — the devil is in the details — but here are a few thoughts about where I am on the issue:

  • I got into politics as a young parent concerned about the quality of local public schools, working to raise funding.
  • As I consider school system issues, I listen carefully to the perspectives of both parents and teachers coming from the front line, but where those perspectives diverge, I weight the perspective of parents most heavily.
  • I don’t see charter schools in ideological terms — they are just another form of public school. Shifting resources among public schools is a management decision that we should approach with great sensitivity, as children are involved and stability matters, but we shouldn’t be afraid of change.
  • Generally, from Boston parents, I’ve heard a lot of passion for new options in the form of charters and I can never say no to that passion — parents know best what their kids need. I have been willing to vote for charter expansion in the past and am prepared to do so in the future if the terms of the package look right.
  • I definitely agree with one element in the email below: There is no substitute for adequate resources in schools and the debate this year about charters will overlap with both the tussle about resources among schools in the Boston system this year and the larger struggle to assure adequate education resources. As a legislator, I always make additional school resources a priority — so we have a bigger pie to slice among the schools in the system.

Sample email from a teacher

I’m writing today to ask you to please keep the cap on charter schools.

As a Boston Public School teacher, I can see that our schools are struggling financially and to allow more charter schools will drain precious resources from our schools. Our public schools need the investments in order to get the best curriculum materials and technology that would enhance student learning. Budget cuts will hurt our kids.

Please keep the cap on charter schools and support all the school children throughout Commonwealth.

Thank you for your support!

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

17 replies on “The Charter School Cap”

  1. Will, what about the fact that charter schools are not serving the same students as regular public schools? The “high-performance” charters take in a self-selected population of applicants; lottery winners are often screened further by parent contracts and other hurdles; and then they shed half their students along the way (without backfilling vacated seats), so they are left with only those who produce high test scores. This “school choice” is choice for the schools, not the students.

    So it’s not really a matter of money. Even if the public schools were fully reimbursed and funded, and the charter schools were flooded with even more private foundation money — we’re still talking about creating a two-track system where charters can cherry-pick their own students, and the public schools must serve all comers (including the charters’ rejects). Is that acceptable to you?

    The Peisch bill that expands charters in Boston comes to the House for vote this Wednesday and I assume it will soon be before you. Will you vote for it?

  2. Please support the cap on Charter Schools. They are not yet what they were promised to be – a source of best practices actively shared with and put into action within our traditional school system. On that basis it has always been my assumption that there would always be a limited number of charter schools because as their practices were transferred to the greater public school system individual charter school programs would be exchanged for newer ideas addressing other concerns and opportunities. If you don’t limit the number of charter schools, you are watering down the criteria that a charter school produce methods and curriculum that will benefit the most children.

  3. Looking forward to hearing the debate on this issue, but I do expect to vote for the charter cap increase. I am most influenced by voices of parents of students in the Boston on this issue. While there are multiple voices, speaking for different schools, on balance, I hear that parents want the options for their kids and I do heavily value their opinion.

    My priority is to secure adequate funding both the basic options that parents want — both district and charter schools.

  4. Plan in simple those that support lifting the charter cap have no interest in the children of urban school districts. When you vote for charter schools you are further segregating the Boston Public schools. The argument that you use is the same as those by the anti-busing movement of the 1970s. The issue in the Boston Public schools socioeconomic, more influential families remove their children from schools and place them in Charters. This creates a segregated system, where the remaining students have little voice and less choice.

    If anyone thinks that Charters behave like public schools, they are only fooling themselves. One of the greatest concerns I have is what the Charter schools do around MCAS. Every year my school receives anywhere from 5-10 10th grade students before MCAS testing, usually these are struggling students that do not pas the MCAS.

    This year I had a student that had a learning disability. Last year she attended a Charter, her former school FLAT OUT REFUSED to forward her IEP despite multiple requests.

    Is this serving children and a families of Boston?

  5. I am a parent in Boston and I DO NOT support lifting the cap on charter schools. Yes, parents want options for their kids – but that does not mean increasing the number of charter schools will increase the availability of high-quality schools for us to choose from. My daughter attends first grade at a Boston Public School in Roxbury and is thriving there, but as more money and resources are siphoned away from the BPS system and into charter schools that are not held accountable for their outcomes, the less likely it will be that she will continue to thrive at that school or that the children who come after her will be able to thrive. I have friends with kids in charter schools and they are doing well, I would never begrudge them that choice for their kids, but I have heard no evidence that lifting the cap on charter schools will improve the outcomes for ALL children in Boston. Where is the evidence that charter schools are serving the same population of high-need students that BPS schools serve? Where is the evidence that charter schools are able to retain their students all the way through high school graduation at the same rate that BPS schools do? Where is the evidence that charter schools outperform BPS schools on any measure of school quality? I will not be supporting or voting for any politician who is in favor of lifting the cap on charter schools without a huge dose of accountability for the existing charter schools in our city.

  6. Thanks, Liz and Eric.

    Accountability is very important for all publicly funded schools — both charter and district, so I certainly support that.

    I’m very aware that certain schools are losing funds in Boston this year, mostly as a result of resource shifts within the Boston budget. I’m doing everything I can as a legislator to ease that situation by supporting additional funds for all public schools, including Boston public schools — charter reimbursement, special ed reimbursement and chapter 70.

    I appreciate hearing many voices on the charter issue — I continue to feel that the majority of parents I talk to in Boston (although, granted, not the majority who have chosen to publish on this site) want to see more options. I’m especially sensitive to the voices of parents of kids in the most disadvantaged schools. To the extent I hear from those parents, directly and indirectly, I hear them looking for charter options.

  7. Dear Sen. Brownsberger,

    I stopped by your office a couple of weeks ago for a meeting to discuss this legislation, but unfortunately your assistant was unsure when you would be able to leave the meeting you were chairing, so I and others with me had to leave.

    Your position on raising the cap to allow more charter schools in Massachusetts is at least partially due to, according to your answer above, what you are hearing from Boston parents. I am a Boston parent as well as an Education Consultant and would like to make sure you are aware of the issues that we see here in Boston:

    A) Charter schools do NOT serve the same populations of students as our public schools. This is just a sampling, I am working on inputting ALL charter school and BPS data now to show that this is true, but for now, here are the highest/lowest for ELL & SWD populations served by charters vs. BPS schools:

    B) Charter schools are paid more per-pupil than our own BPS schools are. Because they do not serve ELL & SWD who have more than minimal needs I in an attempt to compare “apples to apples”, have dug into budget, DESE charter school tuition etc docs and the facts are as follows:
    BPS Schools:
    Under WSF BPS allocates pays) to each school $4,981.-6,897.00 per-pupil. “High incidence” (which means less resources needed and are the ONLY type of students charter schools MIGHT take – usually without knowing the child is a SWD) need students with language or disability needs only adds $77.-2,000.00 to that WSF per-pupil allocation (bps budget docs if you want to look into it yourself).
    Charter schools:
    Though only taking students with minimal resource needs if any at all, charter schools receive $12-16,000.+ per-pupil for each student that is sent to their school. And this is ONLY the per-pupil amount and does not include transportation or other amounts or “in-kind” services (like special ed or language needs) they receive from a district if they choose to use them.

    In effect charter schools receive an average of $7-12,000.00+ more per-pupil than is paid to the BPS schools per-pupil. The oft touted $15-16K per-pupil that charter lobbyists et al throw at you and others is a figure they get by dividing the entire BPS budget by the amount of students in BPS – which is not accurate and shows their lack of understanding for how per-pupil allocations to schools actually occurs and is wrong as not all students or schools in BPS are funded utilizing the WSF method (11 schools do not fall under the WSF policy as they are schools for students with substantial language or disability needs.)

    C) Though they may have good MCAS scores, most of these schools students have been unable to show their proficiency or “college readiness” via the SAT etc – so are these schools educating students or just teaching to a specific test?

    D) Suspension, attrition and graduation rates at charter schools is horrible – when only 31 students graduate out of an incoming 9th grade class of 130 you should be questioning how successful these schools are, especially since they are dumping the students who do not perform well on MCAS for whatever reason back into our BPS schools. And, if this were happening at aBPS, Worcester, or other district school they would be taken over and “turned around” by DESE. Why are charter schools allowed to have such horrible statistics and stay open?

    I would be happy to share ALL of my research and data with you (though you CAN find it yourself too) and to discuss this with you, because when if you vote to lift the cap on charter schools without fixing the horrendous issues you are now aware of, and drain more tax dollars from our true public schools, then you are not voting to ensure that all students achieve success – you are voting to put more public money into the pockets of Walton, Gates, DFER, lobbyists et al. And that hurts MY daughters, who are both SWD, and all our BPS students!

    Again, I am a BOSTON parent – we do NOT want more charter schools in Boston until there is more concrete oversight and plans to truly hold them accountable.

  8. Senator Brownsberger:

    You have heard from me on a number of occasions on the topic of the charter cap. You have been given a lot of really important and clear information by other posters here. Please, please read it and take it seriously. I am a BPS parent who continues to be vehemently opposed to lifting the charter cap. Since you state that you hear a lot of passion for lifting the cap from your Boston constituents, I continue to write to remind you that there is a lot of passion among those of us that do not want to see the cap lifted. There are too many issues of transparency, equity and accountability with our charter schools that MUST be examined and addressed. Let’s do that BEFORE we send millions more of our tax dollars to new charters.

  9. Thank you Senator, for your commitment to more adequate school funding. I’ve been a parent for 14 years in Boston Public Schools, and spent countless hours volunteering in and on behalf of my three childrens’ schools. It is extremely disheartening to hear that you expect to vote for the charter cap increase, and even more painful to hear that you are doing it because you think Boston parents want it.

    We don’t. More charters mean fewer options and less equal options for Boston parents. Next year, my son’s theater teacher could be cut, and he will lose yellow school bus transportation. Those cuts are directly connected to the nearly $130 million Boston will lose next year to charters.

    Worse, your vote will mean a future predicted by the past of New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia. In that future, my son’s school, the Washington Irving, is taken over by a charter like the nearby Edward Brooke in Roslindale. The Irving serves nearly 30% students with disabilities and 25% English language learners, while the Brooke educates only 6.9% students with disabilities and 1% English language learners. Thus your vote will lead to a future of more inequality and diminished educational options for special needs and language minority students.

    “Parents want the options” is NOT what I hear—or if I do, it’s Jason Williams, Marc Kenan, Paul Grogan, and other charter advocates saying it. I do hear constantly, in school site councils, on soccer fields, spoken in Spanish and Haitian Creole and in meetings across Boston, from Allston, to East Boston, to Roxbury, to Mattapan, that Boston parents want fair funding for BPS, and equitable access to quality schools that serve all children. That may include choice within BPS, as in for example, choosing to send a child with special needs to the Mary Lyons, or choosing a pilot high school like Boston Arts Academy, from where my daughter just graduated. Some parents also like the choice of METCO, which has a 15,000 student waitlist, and indeed for a time one of my children attended a school in Swampscott through METCO.

    But charters are not about a choice among district schools. They are not “just another form of public school.” They are separate districts, accountable in practice to neither parents nor any other authority. Their student populations, suspensions, and attrition rates show that they offer a “choice” for only some students. And of course, districts like Boston have no choice about whether more charters come in.

    So please, don’t vote to raise the charter cap. It’s not what I and families of the 57,000 children in Boston Public Schools want or need.

  10. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    I am a BPS parent and a career teacher who started out as a volunteer in urban schools. In fact, my volunteer program founded one of the very first charter schools in Chicago. And I am writing to tell you that the charter system will not work.

    So many others have made great points, so I will restrict myself to one question and one set of numbers.

    For starters, you say that you “don’t see charters in idealogical terms” and that they are just another type of public school. The facts are fairly clear here–they are not just “another form of public school.” (I will spare you the list.) But changing the sources for school funding, the requirements for transparency, the way contracts are negotiated…well, these are specifically idealogical positions. So what I am wondering is, what do you mean by “ideological”?

    Now for some simple numbers…

    MATCH Charter high school had 72 9th graders in the 2009-2010 school year. Only 45 graduated last year – 2013. As far as I can tell, MATCH is by far the most effective charter high school in Boston, retaining 62.5% of its students until 12th grade. For a little perspective, the average BPS 4 year graduation rate is 66%. That means that…

    …the AVERAGE BPS high school graduates a higher percentage of students than the VERY BEST charter school.

    So the BEST charter underperforms the AVERAGE Boston public high school, and we are debating raising the cap and not closing the charters. Who exactly is setting this agenda?

    Joe Golding

  11. Senator Brownsberger:

    I, too, am a BPS parent – one who had other options for my three children, but who chose public school. The idea that charters provide meaningful “choice” for most (or even many) students simply isn’t accurate. The data is unequivocally clear across the entire US that charters under-serve critically at-risk populations, that their suspension and expulsion rates are through the roof, and that their graduation rates are terrible when you look at the number of students who come in at an entry grade who actually make it through to graduation. Charters serve only 7000 or so of the 56,000+ kids in Boston – and many of them do a WORSE job at it than public schools do. Setting up a dual, unregulated, unmeasured, and untested system along side our existing public school system, which is already under-funded, is a recipe for disaster. I assume you’ve read about the terrible outcomes for kids in New Jersey when the fervor for unregulated privatization took hold – is this your goal for Massachusetts?

    It goes without saying that thousands of parents have CHOSEN to put our kids in public school, not in charters. Where is the concern for OUR choice? Where is the pressure to make sure the options for OUR chosen system are well-funded and strong? Please stop assuming that all parents who care about their kids or who want “choice” don’t want their kids in public schools. You are wrong about that – deeply wrong. Informed, intelligent, voting parents from across the commonwealth are BEGGING you and your colleagues to please, please, please educate yourselves about the real impact to the vast majority of children in this Commonwealth if you raise the charter cap with no accountability measures in place.

    The false equation of “choice” with “charters” must end. Creating a side-by-side system that has not been measured or assessed by the Commonwealth is not “choice” – especially when the measurements we do have unequivocally show that charters do not outperform public schools, and that, in fact, that overall they do a worse job of educating kids.

    Carrie Fletcher

  12. Thanks to all who are weighing in here. I appreciate that you are speaking for more than just yourselves.

    To respond to one point, when I say I’m not as interested in ideological arguments about the issue, what I mean is that I’m most interested is personal reports of local experience from parents about what they are seeing in schools that their children attend (and from teachers and others with a direct view).

    I have heard a wide range of experiences in the many ways that I try to listen — in person, at meetings, by email, as well as on the web. I’m listening very carefully and will continue to do so right up to the vote.

  13. Hello Senator Brownsberger,
    Until we find a better way of funding the creation of more charter schools other than by directly shifting dollars away from the already tight budgets of many of our public school districts, I think it is the best interest of our students, parents and teachers that we hold off from increasing the cap.I work at a local nonprofit and through our Healthy Schools Initiative, I have been working in many of the schools throughout Greater Boston (including in the Allston/Brighton area) around environmental health and see what happens when operations/ capital repairs funding is cut. We see more pests, dust, mold, poor ventilation system maintenance and a slew of other health affects and respiratory ailments (including asthma) that can arise as a result of a school district having to choose between more text books or more custodians and roof repair. It is unfair to put so many of our young people and our families in this situation all because of this need for a different option. Why can’t we do more to make our public schools that option instead of letting them deteriorate and become second class institutions? Please reconsider your initial gut feeling to side with the louder voices you have heard from within your district who want more charter options. Your vote might help a few families but will immediately hurt so many other families and children who are already in our district and need you to help make their schools healthier and places where we can nurture our future leaders and decision-makers .

    Thank you for this space to share our perspectives on this tough but importnat issue.

    Al Vega
    Deputy Director

  14. Hello Senator Brownsberger,

    I have one child in a charter school and one child in a district school. My children have been in the public school system for over a decade, since they were three years old. Along the way, I have considered many options for them, including METCO, district pilot, regular, charter, and private. My aim is to get them a decent education in a good school regardless of how it is labeled. Having looked at the options I know that not every district school is bad, and not every charter school is good. We’ve were offered a seat at another charter, but passed on that option because, after a close look, that school was not doing any better than my child’s regular district school. We did not consider another charter that was very close by because it was put on academic probation – twice.

    Rather than invest more money in schools that may or may not live up to expectations, I’d like to see more public resources invested in existing schools, especially the ones that are creative and resourceful and making strides. My child’s district school is one such school to watch – and in fact was awarded a “school on the move” designation. 90% of the kids in the school qualify for free and reduce lunch; it is located across the street from a housing development; and it has a strand specifically dedicated to serving students with autism (and has been highlighted for its work in the newspaper). 98% of the kids in the school are kids of color. This year the school piloted an extended day program. Unfortunately, with the budget issues in Boston, that was the first program on the chopping block and uncertain whether it’s coming back next year.

    Schools like these need your support, and rather than creating a two tier system with winners and losers in the lottery, give parents the option of sending their child to a decent school in their community.

    The foundations are investing in my child’s charter school. In fact the foundations provided more grant money to the school than the school requested for various initiatives. This school does not serve as broad a range of children – currently having only one English language learner in a school of 500. Though I’d like to see more resources devoted to the special ed population in this school, I have no say in how resources are allocated – in fact, parents have no input at all as there are no parents on the Board of Trustees. I’d also like my to see my child’s charter school work more closely with the district school on special ed issues as I think the district has more depth of experience in serving this population, and the school could learn from some of the innovations being carried out on the district level.

    Bottom line is that as a parent, I’d don’t think we need to create more schools, we need to create better schools. This is the public investment we need to make, not to focus on lifting a charter cap.

    Odette Williamson

  15. Odette, thank you for these thoughts. Very much appreciated. This is the kind of narrative that is very influential to my thinking — not that it is easy to weigh the different narratives and determine how they add up. But your story is moving and important and influences my thinking. It could be that we are spreading ourselves thinner by adding more charters right now.

    Still listening hard on this issue. I very much appreciate your weighing in!

    And Al, thank you also for your testimony about the poor physical conditions in the schools. That is meaningful. One thing you say doesn’t sound right:

    It is unfair to put so many of our young people and our families in this situation all because of this need for a different option.

    I agree that it is unfair to put young people in schools in poor condition. But it really isn’t “all because of this need for a different option” — charters are only one part of Boston’s budget equation — there are a lot of other larger moving parts.

  16. Please don’t raise the charter school cap. I want more money to go into BPS. In the schools where there is enough funding wonderful things are happening. My daughter is in a wonderful inclusive school in Jamaica Plain, that celebrates the individual and gives her the supports that she needs to thrive. For parents of kids in Boston with special needs I have never heard of one saying they would prefer a charter school over a good inclusive school. Personally another charter school is not a positive.

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