Friday, July 11, 2014

The Senate version of the charter (zombie) bill (S2262) is out [edited]

You can find the bill here. Details below.
First, up, the bits that are the same, or virtually so, to the House bill (my write-up on that here and here):
  • The "challenge" language, allowing the Commissioner to declare some Level 3 schools "challenge schools" and require a turnaround plan, as is done with Level 4 schools, is in. So far as I can tell, this is a way of the Commissioner essentially getting to declare new Level 4 schools without accompanying it with funding (as the declaration of Level 4's isn't mathmatical, anyway; the only difference here is that Level 4 presupposes that state funding will follow). The cap on all the state intervention schools is 4%, just as in the House language.
  • All that business with giving fiscal power to school receivers in Level 5 districts, without public oversight or school committee approval, is in. 
  • The charter cap is raised to 23% of spending in the bottom 10% of districts, just as in the House language, if the expansion is for alternative education OR all kids are thrown into the charter lottery. Also, no more than 120 charter schools statewide; none in towns of less than 30,000, and charters must have a rolling backfill of empty seats.
But there are some fairly significant differences:
  • Charter school spending cannot go up if the state doesn't fully fund charter reimbursement. You might remember that this is what blew up the original bill. 
  • The Board of Ed is required to set up procedures and guidelines for revoking charters, and the charter cannot be renewed unless the charter school "has provided models for replication and best practices to the commissioner and to other public schools in the district where the charter school is located."
  • A charter school's charter can only be renewed if its hanging onto kids; the three year attrition rate has to be lower than the sending district's rate or the stability rate greater than the sending district's rate. 
  • The bill sets up a commission to report on the "effacy of charter school funding" in Massachusetts, which has to report out by January 1, 2016. I'd say this is a public calling-into-question of the current funding system. For once, it also includes school committee representation, too!
  • [edit] The Senate version does NOT include the House language requiring the mandatory sale or rental of unused public school space to charter schools. (Thanks!)
  • While the House bill set up a commission to study charter school transportation, the Senate bill flat out reworks it: transportation must be provided on "similar conditions" as those of the sending district. Any limitations on transportation that the district applies to its own students, also apply to the charter; note that this includes transportation for districtwide specialized programs (should the charter have any such beyond college prep programs). If the district and charter school cannot agree on start times, the district is responsible for only 50% of the cost of transportation. The district is only responsible for paying for transporation on days when both the district and the charter school are in session (no extra days). For charter schools (like Abby Kelley Foster in Worcester) that make their own transportation arrangements, they must abide by the above, or the district does not have to pay for the transportation at all. 
If you see anything I've missed, I'd be interested. 
The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday. And the clock is ticking on the Legislative session. 

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