Lawmakers have reached a compromise on lifting the cap on charter schools, state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz's office said Saturday.
Chang-Diaz co-chairs the Legislature's Education Committee, which had given itself a one-week extension  to March 25 in order to kick out a bill on the charter school cap. Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, had come under pressure from charter school advocates to move the legislation out of committee.
The compromise with state Rep. Russell 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 voiced skepticism, saying in their own release on Saturday afternoon that the "Chang-Diaz/Holmes proposal puts responsible quality school growth at risk."
In a statement, Paul Grogan, the president of the Boston Foundation, said, “While the members of the Race to the Top Coalition agree that the charter reimbursement should be fully-funded, what little we know of the current compromise would allow lawmakers to stop the expansion of charters to plan a responsible course of multiyear growth by simply voting to underfund the reimbursement by a single dollar.”
The full releases from Chang-Diaz's office and charter school advocates are below.
Accord Reached by Senator Chang-Díaz and Representative Holmes on Charter School Legislation Senate Chair of Education Committee and House Sponsor of Charter School Bill Agree on Provision to Lift the Charter Cap
BOSTON – Today Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, and Representative Russell Holmes, House sponsor of the bill to lift the state’s cap on charter schools, reached an agreement on how to achieve a cap lift and allow legislation on turnaround schools and charter schools to move forward. The compromise comes three days before the Education Committee’s Tuesday deadline for releasing a final bill for consideration by the rest of the legislature. The agreement comes after a tense two weeks, during which progress on an ambitious education reform bill seemed to stall over long-standing controversies about district and charter school financing. A compromise endorsed by both the sponsor of the original cap-lift legislation and the Senate chair of the Education Committee represents an eleventh hour life-line for both the cap lift itself and other reforms the committee has been working on.
“I’m proud and thrilled to announce a breakthrough, which increases opportunities for kids in charter and district schools alike,” said Chang-Díaz. “The children and families seeking a great education in our state need this and deserve it. I’m also relieved for what this breakthrough can mean for the other reforms the committee has been working on; there are so many important tools that I want to see make it through the rest of the legislative process. I hope the agreement reached today will break the logjam and allow the bill to move forward.”
Senator Chang-Díaz continued: “I’m deeply thankful to my friend Representative Holmes for working with me on a solution to get to ‘yes.’”
"Raising the cap on charter schools is a priority for me, and that’s why I filed An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap at the beginning of this legislative session," said Representative Holmes. "This agreement fulfills my commitment to lifting the cap on charter schools across the state, while also protecting district school students from the harm caused when funding of the reimbursement line item falls short. I’m proud to have worked with Senator Chang-Díaz to fight for all public school students and to achieve this important agreement. I hope it will provide a way forward for this legislation."
The Holmes/Chang-Díaz compromise would enable the cap on charter schools to rise progressively over several years, as with past cap lifts. But it would freeze the phase-in in any year the district reimbursement commitment from the state is not fully funded.
The charter school cap lift put into law as part of the Achievement Gap Act of 2010 phases in that cap lift over the course of seven years from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2017. That process will continue to move forward regardless of the new legislation.
In the 2010 Achievement Gap Act lawmakers committed the state to reimburse cities and towns for tuition that they send to charter schools, to ease the transition costs for local school districts. The reimbursement monies also help balance out ways in which charter schools can disproportionately pull funds away from district school students. Over the last two years, however, the state has fallen short on the reimbursement commitment.
Chang-Diaz/Holmes proposal puts responsible quality school growth at risk
Linking charter growth to reimbursement as proposed creates the ability to block charter growth by withholding a single dollar
Boston – Members of the Race to the Top Coalition, a statewide coalition of business, civic and community organizations, released the following statement in reaction to the announcement by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, and Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston) that they were crafting a new education proposal. No details of any legislation have been made public, but the two lawmakers say it would link expansion in charter schools to the full funding of the charter reimbursement provisions in the annual Legislative budget.
“While the members of the Race to the Top Coalition agree that the charter reimbursement should be fully-funded, what little we know of the current compromise would allow lawmakers to stop the expansion of charters to plan a responsible course of multiyear growth by simply voting to underfund the reimbursement by a single dollar,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation on behalf of the Coalition.
In a press release on the plan, which the lawmakers released this morning, the charter cap would be raised to an undisclosed level – but would be frozen in any year the Legislature failed to fully fund the charter reimbursement to sending districts by even a single dollar. As a result, making a small cut in reimbursement funding, regardless of the reason, would block any charter expansion in communities near their cap.
“We look forward to continuing the conversation with Joint Committee on Education Co-Chair Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), who has proven herself a thoughtful partner in this legislative work, and with Senator Chang-Diaz. We believe a deal can be reached that strengthens the state’s highest performing schools, and provides needed supports to even more schools in struggling districts.”
The Coalition has stood firmly in support of “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap,” since its proposal last year. The bill would update the Achievement Gap Act of 2010, which has helped usher in reforms that have made a measurable difference for thousands of Massachusetts students.
Among its provisions, the bill would lift the cap on charter school seats in some of the state’s lowest performing districts, as well as protecting reforms now underway in more than 40 Level 4 “turnaround” schools and expanding the opportunity for needed reforms to Level 3 schools in a school districts across the state.
The Race to the Top Coalition is a highly diverse group of business, community, civic and education leaders dedicated to closing the achievement gap in Massachusetts and improving outcomes for every student in the Commonwealth. Convened by the Boston Foundation in 2009, the Coalition played a major role in passing An Act Relevant to the Achievement Gap, signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in 2010. The legislation doubled the number of charter school seats in the state, established innovative in-district schools and provided superintendents with new intervention powers in underperforming districts. Now the Coalition is focused on passing An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap, which will eliminate the cap on public charter schools in the lowest performing districts, empower superintendents and school personnel to make critical changes in many other underperforming schools and promote other crucial innovations that will help to close the achievement gap in Massachusetts
This post was updated at 11:12 p.m. with a response from charter school advocates.