Ed law expected to bring ‘in-district’ charters to Dot

Gov. Deval Patrick this week signed an education reform bill that handed increased powers to school superintendents and allows the creation of more charter schools. The move paves the way for Mayor Thomas Menino to bring his “in-district” charter schools to Dorchester, home to a number of the city’s underperforming schools.

“In-district” charter schools, targeted at reforming underperformers without the need for union approval, differ from charter schools in a number of ways, with the school remaining under the control of the superintendent and the funding remaining with the school instead of leaving with the child.

Under the bill, the city can open four “in-district” charters that proponents say would allow for greater innovation and flexibility in schools labeled underperforming because of low test scores.
“These reforms have been a long time on the way,” Menino said at a press conference at the Boston Children’s Museum, where the bill was signed into law on Monday.

The bill is a major win for both Patrick, who is running for re-election, and Menino, who after winning a fifth term has pledged to make education a top priority. Menino, joined by state Rep. Marie St. Fleur, pressured lawmakers on Beacon Hill on the proposal, which is similar to the one he filed last summer. He had warned of passing “paper reform” that does not go far enough.

But Menino this week said he was satisfied with the current law, and called the signing, which took place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “one of the happiest days of my career.”

The effort to pass the bill was largely propelled by the potential for Massachusetts to qualify and receive $250 million in federal dollars, also known as “Race to the Top” funds.

Teachers unions have voiced concerns with the law, saying aspects of it violate teachers’ collective bargaining rights and unnecessarily create “in-district” charters when other successful models are already available to city officials.

Patrick called the law “the beginning of the end of the achievement gap” among poor and minority children. In an e-mail to his campaign supporters, he wrote, “Poor children, children with special needs, children who speak English as a second language, and often children of color are too often left behind. The problem is not their teachers, but rather the conditions in which they learn and live. This bill helps address that.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker criticized Patrick, saying he acted on the bill because $250 million was available and they were prodded by the Obama administration.

“I guess that means the silly season has started because that’s one of the silliest things I ever heard,” Patrick told reporters in response.
The law, the most sweeping bill of its kind since education reform was first passed in 1993, also doubles the cap on state charter school spending in districts to 18 percent in the state’s underperforming school districts.

State Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston) has in the past filed proposals to lift the cap. “I think this bill gives us the tools to do that,” he said after attending the press conference.

The bill passed the Senate, 23-12, and the House, 97-47.
Material from State House News Service was used in this report.