Bid for compromise on charter school cap falls short

Gintautas Dumcius, News Editor
Mar. 26, 2014

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and state Rep. Russell Holmes, two lawmakers who represent parts of Dorchester and Mattapan, were unsuccessful this week in pushing a compromise that would lift the cap on charter schools.

Chang-Diaz’s office announced the compromise on Saturday, days after the Education Committee had given itself a one-week extension to March 25 to put together a bill. But March 25 came and went with no action on legislation.

"I'm sad that obstinacy and polarized rhetoric stood in the way of compromise and progress," Chang-Diaz said in a statement released shortly after 5 p.m. "I was genuinely encouraged that we'd reached a breakthrough a few days ago when the cap-lift's chief sponsor, Rep. Holmes, and I agreed on a solution that increased opportunities for kids in both charter and district schools."

The lack of an agreement reminded her of Washington, D.C., she added.

Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who represents a portion of Dorchester, had come under pressure from charter school advocates to move legislation lifting the cap out of committee. She also faced pressure from the other side from parents who were adamantly opposed to charters and wanted the bill to die.

The compromise with Holmes, a Mattapan Democrat who sponsored legislation lifting the cap, ties the lift of the cap to school district reimbursement coming from the state. If the state does not fully fund the reimbursement, the phase-in of a cap lift would “freeze,” according to Chang-Diaz’s office.
But a coalition of charter advocacy groups immediately voiced skepticism, saying in their own release on Saturday afternoon that the “Chang-Diaz/Holmes proposal puts responsible quality school growth at risk.”

The back-and-forth stretched into Monday, as Chang-Diaz and Holmes hosted a press conference at the State House to press for their proposal. “There is no done deal bill yet,” Chang-Diaz acknowledged, stressing that a “third way” is possible.

They were joined by state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, Juan Leyton of Oiste, a Latino political group, and Mariama White-Hammond, the head of Project HIPHOP, an organization focused on art and social
justice. Dorcena Forry is married to Reporter editor Bill Forry.

White-Hammond said she had a niece in a charter school and a niece in a public school. “We should not be pitting our children against each other,” she said.

The Chang-Diaz/Holmes proposal would put charter advocates and Boston Public Schools advocates in the “same boat,” White-Hammond said.

State Rep. Alice Peisch, the House chair of the Education Committee, did not appear at the press conference and told the Boston Globe on Saturday that she does not support the compromise.

After the Monday press conference, charter advocates pressed their case to reporters lingering outside the House chamber. John Clark, co-director at Brooke Charter Schools, said charter schools get less money per student than district schools. Over 50 percent of families in the Brooke charter network are
from Dorchester, and the organization is moving into the Lena Park Community Center in Mattapan.

If the reimbursement is underfunded by even one dollar, Clark added, charters would be negatively impacted.

The State House News Service reported on Tuesday afternoon that the chairs had met inside the senator’s office, but that Peisch still opposed the Chang-Diaz/Holmes proposal. “Until we reach the
end, I do hold out hope,” Peisch, a Wellesley Democrat, told the wire service.