(The Center Square) – Massachusetts lawmakers are reviewing more than a dozen bills about statewide charter schools as the debate over the education option is weighed against traditional public schools.
The bills, heard Monday in the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, touch on equitable access for students, transparency and accountability of data reporting, and community input when charter schools are proposed.
A range of speakers – from legislators to education advocates – weighed in on a number of the specific bills. The committee will review and provide recommendations on the bills later.
Sen. Patricia Jehlen, D-Somerville, sponsor of Senate Bill 292, said her proposal allows charter school applications to be approved only when a detailed report is presented on the financial impact it would have on one or more traditional school districts.
“We can’t fund every good idea, and we have to make choices,” Jehlen said.
The bill, Jehlen said, is in response to some local public school districts that have lost funding and physically shrunk their school footprints due to enrollment declines.
Sen. Michael Moore, D-Millbury, sponsor of Senate Bill 320, said the legislation proposes an approval process by a locally elected body to authorize allocating funds to a charter school.
“Charter school expansion remains a contentious issue in my district,” Moore said, pointing to one of the reasons he has introduced the bill.
Throughout the hearing, several charter school organizations – including representatives within advocacy organizations – went before the committee and implored lawmakers not to strip the entities of funding.
Tim Nicolette, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, spoke in opposition to House Bill 573, a companion bill to SB320.
“We must oppose prescriptive legislation that would hamstring our schools,” Nicolette said. “Many of these bills would dismantle our successful system.”
Several charter school leaders weighed in on House Bill 550, which proposes increasing access to vulnerable students by offering enrollment preferences to different groups of students, including English language learners, students with disabilities, and youth in foster care.
Christian Correa, director of talent and recruitment with the Phoenix Charter Academy Network, said entities such as the one he oversees commonly serve a narrow niche of students because of the specialized curriculum.
“We need to make sure they have access to the resources that will give them the opportunity to thrive,” Correa said.
Rachel Babcock, co-director and co-founder of Plymouth-based Map Academy Charter School, also spoke to the niche nature of the curriculum at the school. Applicants outside Map Academy’s core mission are commonly encouraged to enroll elsewhere.
“We advise them to stay where they are because that’s where they’ll have more opportunities,” Babcock said.