Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Regarding the charter bill

Here's the letter I sent to our Worcester representatives last night: please note that the bill's number has changed to 4091:
I write today to urge you to vote no on House 3984, scheduled to come to the floor tomorrow. It is a bill that is bad for Worcester.
Most notably, of course, the bill lifts the cap on the spending on charter schools in the bottom 10% of districts. While this group does not currently include Worcester, please note that this is not a scientific assignment system (to learn more on this, I've posted an explanation here). In short: it isn't now, but it could be, and it could be without much regard to what our children are actually doing in our schools. Were that to happen, up to nearly a quarter of public school funds could be expended on charter schools. This would, to be blunt, be the death knell of these districts. You would kill public education in any district in which this happened. 

There is much more to the bill than the charter schools, and these are also of concern. In brief:
  • a Commissioner-controlled "challenge" school designation, which will require extensive state-managed redesign work, the sort of the work that was required of our Level 4 schools. This is a massive, disruptive, and expensive process for a district; while it has gone well in Worcester, we have strained our resources with three. To have such a state-directed process at more of our schools, with the associated meetings and reports, and with no talk of funding, is not a productive idea. Moreover, please note that the "challenge" designation could require all teachers to reapply for their positions; I believe the AFL-CIO has already weighed in with you on this. We as a district are already working hard at all of our schools, including our Level 3 schools. We most assuredly do not need the Commissioner's intervention in them.
  • to go back to charters for a moment: while there is language in here about backfilling of student openings, of open lotteries and much else that might (and I stress MIGHT) make charter schools more reflective of student enrollment in their districts, that language applies only to new charter schools. Current charter schools, such as the two in Worcester, are free to continue to have a student body that is not reflective of the general Worcester population of students. In our case, this is most notable in special education, where students are told that their needs can better be met by the public schools. They are not serving all students, and this bill is silent on this issue. 
  • finally on spending: the most pressing issue for Worcester right now on spending is dependable full funding of the charter reimbursement. Many years, it is not fully funded. If the funding comes through later in the year, as it appears it might for FY14, it goes into the city general fund and has to await designation as "free cash" at year's end to be expended; these funds do not make it to the school budget at all. Thus, the issue that is most pressing for us around charter schools is mentioned not at all in this bill.
Should you wish to read more on this, I have posted here and here on this bill. I would, as always, be happy to speak to you more on this issue.

Finally, I realize that voting 'no' on this bill may require you not to vote with the leadership. Please know that doing so would be a vote that is right for Worcester.
Thank you, as always, for all you do for us,
Tracy Novick

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