Mass. Congressman Lynch endorses charter cap raise

U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch speaks outside the Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester on Monday. Jennifer Smith photo

U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch on Monday reaffirmed his hearty support for a ballot measure that would raise the statewide cap on charter schools. After a tour of the Boston Collegiate Charter School on Mayhew Street, which the congressman co-founded in 1997, Lynch encouraged voters to back the ballot initiative known as Question 2 in November.

Boston Collegiate is one of 22 active charter schools in Boston and 78 across the state, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The statewide cap currently allows no more than 120 charter schools to operate in the Commonwealth.

A “yes” vote on Question 2 would allow for up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools every year, at the discretion of the education department. The proposed law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2017. A “no” vote would maintain the current cap.

“Question 2 could be a critical turning point in the journey towards educational equality in the state,” Lynch said, “and it’s crucial that all families in the Commonwealth have the opportunity to choose the best option for their child, whether that is a traditional public school or a public charter school.”

Lower performing districts would be given priority for new charters, and proponents of the ballot initiative say charter schools increase access to top-notch education for students in low-income areas and communities of color. Opponents say increasing the number of charter schools will sap public funds from district schools already in need of investment.

Standing flanked by Question 2 supporters, Lynch said charter schools can help retain Boston families who may choose to move out to the suburbs in search of a quality education if it isn’t immediately available through public schools.

Such a trend spurred the creation of Boston Collegiate almost two decades ago, the congressman said, as “we were losing the heart and soul of our city: our students.”

So he, Brett Peiser, and Susan Fortin pursued and were granted a charter, opening a school with an initial nine teachers and 120 students.

Now, of the 684 students between 5th and 12th grade currently enrolled at BCCS, 357 hail from Dorchester. The school has maintained 100 percent college acceptance rates for the last 13 years, according to Executive Director Shannah Varon.

“I could not be prouder,” Lynch said after a tour of the school guided by two senior students. “You know, Massachusetts charter schools are among the best in the nation. I serve in the United Stated Congress, so I see what everybody else is doing with their charter schools.”

He compared Washington D.C., which has about 40 percent of its students in charter schools, with the approximately 4 percent across Massachusetts. More than 30,000 students across the state are on waiting lists for charter schools, around 2,000 of them waiting for Boston Collegiate.

The dynamic between traditional public schools and charter schools can be strained at times, Lynch noted.

“I think it’s healthy having competition among systems,” he said. “The parents and the children of the school behind me, Boston Collegiate Charter, were seeking opportunity, seeking to have a brighter future for their children. This is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse, racially diverse schools in the city of Boston, and the one commonality between all those races of all those children and their parents is they love their children and they want them to succeed.”

Reporter Correspondent Maddie Kilgannon contributed to this report.

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