Massachusetts charter school bill stalls in Legislature
BOSTON -- A legislative panel failed to meet a Tuesday deadline for reaching agreement on a bill allowing for an expansion of charter schools in Boston and other urban school districts, leaving the fate of the measure in grave doubt.
"I’m sad that obstinacy and polarized rhetoric stood in the way of compromise and progress," said Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, co-chair of the education committee, in a late afternoon statement.
The bill filed more than a year ago would have raised caps on charter schools -- public schools that operate autonomously from school districts -- while also calling for other steps aimed at shoring up underperforming schools.
The debate was a contentious one. Supporters laud the academic potential of charters, but critics, including teachers unions, argue they drain financial resources from conventional public schools.
The panel was granted an extension until Tuesday, from last Wednesday’s initial deadline, for legislative committees to act on bills before them, but Chang-Diaz said the new deadline expired without action on the charter school measure.
It’s highly unusual, though not unprecedented, for the full Legislature to vote on a bill that did not win approval at the committee level.
In the final days before the deadline, Chang-Diaz and Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston, the bill’s original sponsor, had offered what they called a compromise proposal. It would have allowed the charter school cap to gradually rise in Boston and 28 other school districts, but contingent upon the state fully meeting its commitment for reimbursing the districts for the financial impacts of students moving to charters.
A 2010 law requires the state to reimburse school districts 100 percent of per-pupil costs in the first year after a student moves from a conventional public school to a charter school, and 25 percent in each of the following five years.
The state, however, has not fully reimbursed school districts for charter school placements in the last two years and the current state budget falls $28 million short of full funding, lawmakers said.
Race to the Top Coalition, consisting of groups pushing for charter school expansion, rejected the idea of a link between lifting the cap and state reimbursements.
While agreeing that the state should fully fund reimbursements, Paul Grogan, president and chief executive of the Boston Foundation, faulted the proposed compromise as one that could allow lawmakers to block future expansion of charters "by simply voting to underfund the reimbursement by a single dollar."
The coalition had no immediate comment on Chang-Diaz’s announcement Tuesday.
"The fact that too many parties could not get out of their corners to find a practical middle reminds me of the dysfunction in Washington D.C. right now," the senator said. "Unfortunately it’s children in all public school systems, district and charter alike, who are suffering for it."
She said the bill failed despite the strong efforts of many education advocates, including the committee’s House co-chair, Rep. Alice Peisch, D-Wellesley, who did not support the proposed compromise.
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