Charter school operators are hopeful that the Legislature could make a small but impactful change to the 2010 education reform law that would direct public school districts to make unused buildings available for lease or purchase to charter schools.
The Joint Committee on Education recently gave a favorable recommendation to a bill (H 1961) filed by Rep. Martha Walz (D-Boston) and Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield) that would change the word “may” to “shall” in the law.
“The buildings are just sitting there. They’re a blight on their neighborhoods, are not being used, and in many cases were built with state funds,” said Dominic Slowey, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.
Slowey said that since the law passed in January 2010, very few if any school districts, with the exception of Boston, have made older, unused school buildings available to charter schools.
Following the signing of a compact between the city of Boston and charters to facilitate greater collaboration, the city is currently negotiating three leases for public school buildings with charter school organizations.
“It’s kind of a big step forward that the committee would say we will change the law to essentially give charters the right of first refusal if the districts aren’t using them,” Slowey said. “For a lot new charters, it would seem to be a perfect match. If the district can’t use the facility, why wouldn’t they at least make an attempt to offer them to charters? They would get a revenue stream and it wouldn’t be sitting there empty in someone’s neighborhood.”
The bill was reported out of committee with a recommendation that it ought to pass on March 20, and is currently being processed by the House clerk’s office.