Reporter's Notebook: More time for talk on charter school cap issue

The debate over lifting the charter school cap will stretch into next week as the Legislature’s Education Committee continues to seek a compromise. Charter school advocates have ratcheted up pressure on lawmakers, including state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair of the Committee on Education, calling on them to release a bill lifting the cap. Separately, public school parents who oppose charter schools sent a petition to the committee this week, demanding that the cap stay in place.

In a meeting at the State House on Tuesday, the committee gave itself an extension to kick out a bill.

“We know that the clock is ticking,” said Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat who represents parts of Dorchester. Asked by a reporter if the extension was an indication that the committee was getting closer to a consensus, Chang-Diaz paused and exhaled: “I think it’s an indication that there’s work left to do,” she said. “We’re not there yet.”

She then directed reporters to a statement from her office: “I continue to fight to find a balanced third way that breaks from the us-versus-them mindset when it comes to district and charter schools. All are public schools and both are needful of our attention and advocacy. I have been on record in both words and actions that I am committed to getting a bill out of committee that continues to close the gap between populations served by charters and districts, mitigates the financial stresses that even the best charters present for district schools, and allows targeted expansion of good charters.”

Chang-Diaz added that she has offered “multiple” compromise proposals that have been consistently rejected by charter advocates. “While I am disappointed that we must resort to a one-week extension today, I remain committed to forging a resolution,” she said. “My door is wide open to anyone who has ideas about how we can move forward on a middle path that treats all kids with compassion and fairness.”

For their part, charter school advocates said they are ready to discuss “reasonable” proposals. “This is a critical opportunity to improve the lives of thousands of students who need and deserve the best public education possible,” said Paul Grogan, head of the Boston Foundation. “To leave them in low-performing schools without needed support or quality school options is simply unacceptable, and we are confident that lawmakers are getting that message,” Grogan’s statement said.

Mayor Marty Walsh, a supporter of charter schools, appears unlikely to wade into the battle before the committee’s next step. We want to see it get out of committee first before we push anything,” he told reporters on Sunday, adding, “I certainly feel there are a lot of good aspects to the bill.” Walsh said he “certainly” shares some of Chang-Diaz’s concerns around charters and their effect on school districts’ budgets. But as for raising the cap, “I have no problem with that,” Walsh said.

Walsh also confirmed that he privately met with Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft, and ten other mayors from around the country last Friday in Washington where, he said, he discussed Boston possibly receiving foundation funds from Gates for education. “I don’t know about the money yet, but we’ll find out,” the mayor said. “But he was very pleased to hear about our superintendent search that’s going on here in the city, [and] he was excited to hear about our commitment to early childhood education. He was also excited to hear about my support of charter schools. Because those foundations really look at education, they don’t look at the type. So we had a very good conversation.”

Negotiations fruitless, Walsh skips the parade in Southie

The extensive back-and-forth over whether an advocacy group for equality will be allowed to march in the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day parade is over, at least for this year. Mayor Walsh did not march, although he kept the door open until the last minute, hoping that the parade organizers, the Allied War Veterans Council, and the gay group MassEquality could come to an agreement that would result in gay veterans openly marching.

Walsh’s statement on his stance about marching in the parade came in at 9:18 a.m., as the annual St. Patrick’s Day breakfast roast, a separate event held in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, was getting under way. The parade kicked off hours later. “As mayor of the city of Boston, I have to do my best to ensure that all Bostonians are free to participate fully in the civic life of our city,” Walsh, who marched when he was a Dorchester state representative, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this year, the parties were not able to come to an understanding that would have made that possible.”

After making the statement, Walsh went backstage at the convention center and met with the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, who was on hand for the roast, an annual South Boston tradition that this year was hosted by state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry.

Walsh later told reporters he was hopeful about next year. “It was a good parade for Boston and next year it’s going to be a great parade, and, hopefully, I’ll be marching in it,” he said after raising the Irish flag outside of City Hall.

Negotiations came down to agreeing on what went on a banner, including the letters LGBTQ, which stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. “Which is sad,” Walsh said. “I want to commend the Allied War Veterans for having conversations, and I want to commend everyone for having conversations even though it wasn’t the result that I felt that we should have… It’s opened the door now for dialogue next year and now people will realize how ridiculous it is that we’re having discussions like this.”

Asked to specify where the disagreement was, Walsh said, “It came down to a banner … to allow people to identify who they are and I think we’ll be able to resolve that [next year].”

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