Our View: Lift the charter school cap

Date Published: 
March 15, 2014
Herald News Editorial Staff

Charter schools have gained greater acceptance in educational circles — delivering impressive results and innovative ways of educating a wide variety of learners — and they are no longer just an experiment. While there have been problems with some charter schools, most have proven track records.

Although some educators — particularly some public school teachers and teachers’ unions — view charter schools with skepticism and concern about the resources they divert from traditional public schools, it is unfair to deny students the chance at a better-fitting education because some public school educators would like to hold a monopoly on education.

It is clear that there is little reason for this fear of the charter school concept. Competition is healthy — even when it comes to education — and education cannot be delivered in a one-size-fits-all approach because not all students learn in the same way. Indeed, traditional public schools, including those in Fall River, have ratcheted up their offerings and have made a wider variety of programs to give students and parents better options.

That said, there are some logistical challenges associated with charter schools. Argosy Collegiate Charter School, the new grades 6-12 school, will begin to shift the enrollment in the city’s middle and high schools, both public and private. Argosy’s slow-growth model makes a lot of sense and will allow both the new school and existing schools to prepare for enrollment changes.

The well-respected Atlantis Charter School, meanwhile, is also expanding its kindergarten to grade 8 model under a similar model. The two charter schools will add 1,227 new public charter school seats into the picture, with those students coming from the various existing schools. Therefore, when it comes to any new school building or renovation projects — such as a possible renovation or reconstruction of B.M.C. Durfee High School — planners should consider that shift in enrollment and design any plans for a lower student population than would exist without such options.

Slow growth makes sense. The existing cap on Massachusetts charter schools was a means of shielding public school districts from a swift exodus of students and losing a significant amount of resources while questions remained about the efficacy of charter school education. But that safeguard is no longer necessary.

With charter schools becoming more mainstream, and a more cooperative approach taking shape between charter schools and public school districts, the cap is no longer necessary. A legislative panel is currently considering lifting the cap in certain underperforming school districts, including Fall River.

While it seems lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have warmed up to the charter school concept, some legitimate concerns — particularly related to the unpredictability of funding to public school districts — remain. Those concerns can — and should — be addressed through the legislation instead of keeping the cap, which may be stifling education innovation and cheating students of better educational options.

Lifting the existing charter school cap would be a step in the right direction to expand educational opportunities to students from struggling communities. Legislation lifting the cap ought to be approved by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Deval Patrick.