BOSTON, MA – FEBRUARY 26, 2013 – At two separate meetings last night and this morning, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved the creation of more than 3,000 new charter seats located mostly in high need districts. But some of these communities will now be frozen to additional charters because of state mandated limits on charter enrollment.
The Board approved four new Commonwealth charter public schools, and one new in-district Horace Mann charter, and allowed 11 existing charter schools to expand their enrollment. The new schools will create 1,585 new seats in Boston and 1,475 seats in other urban and rural districts.
“These new charters will bring high quality alternatives to low-performing districts across the state,” Marc Kenen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said. “We applaud the Department, the Commissioner and the Board for continuing to support charter expansion. Unfortunately, in some of the lowest performing, highest need communities in the state, these will be among the last new charters approved unless the Legislature lifts charter caps.”
Kenen urged the Administration and the Legislature to get behind legislation filed last month that would eliminate all charter caps in districts that rank in the bottom 10% academically, and create more room to open new charters across the state. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Barry Finegold (D-Andover) and Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Mattapan) is part of a comprehensive effort to expand charters, as well as provide superintendents with additional tools to intervene in underperforming district schools.
More than half of the 29 districts that rank in the bottom 10% academically are either at the cap or have room for only one more charter school. These include large cities and towns like Boston, Holyoke, Lawrence, Lowell, Chelsea, and Randolph, and several smaller communities in Central and Western Massachusetts. More than 35,000 children sit on wait lists in these communities; 45,000 statewide.
“Just three years ago, the Legislature doubled the number of children who could enroll in charters in underperforming districts, but in several communities, these seats are already filled,” Kenen said. “The more schools we open, the longer the wait lists get. Our chartering process is recognized as the best in the country. We no longer need arbitrary caps on our growth, particularly in the lowest performing districts.”
The new schools the Board approved includes new networks operated by successful Boston-area charters. City on a Hill Charter Public School, which currently runs a high school in Roxbury, will open two new schools in Boston and New Bedford. Phoenix Charter Academy, which currently operates an alternative high school for former dropouts and high-risk students in Chelsea, will open a similar school to serve students from Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee. Phoenix also operates an alternative high school in Lawrence under an agreement with the district’s state-appointed receiver. Pioneer Charter School of Science, which operates a school in Everett, will replicate its science and math-focused model to serve students in Grades 7-12 from Saugus, Salem, Peabody, Danvers, and Lynn.
Unlocking Potential, a charter management organization, also received a charter to manage an underperforming district school in Boston under an agreement with the City. It’ll be the organization’s second Boston school. UP is also managing an underperforming school in Lawrence under an agreement with the state receiver.
The Board also approved grade and enrollment expansions for several schools. Codman Academy Charter Public School, which operates a high school in Dorchester, received approval to add elementary and middle school grades. Conservatory Lab Charter School in Brighton received approval to add Grades 7 and 8 to its K-6 program. Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, which operates a K-8 school in Hadley received approval to add a high school. Enrollment expansions were also approved for Academy of the Pacific Rim Charter School (Hyde Park), Edward W. Brooke Charter School (Boston/Chelsea), Excel Academy Charter School (Boston/Chelsea), Community Day Charter Public School (Lawrence), and Four Rivers Charter Public School (Greenfield).
Last month, the Board approved enrollment expansions for Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School (Adams), Christa McAuliffe Regional Charter Public School (Framingham) and Foxborough Regional Charter School.