Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Here's the answer on what's in the question

The danger of not getting to the growing list of blog posts is that you never get to them at all. Thus, at the risk of rewriting what Kristin has already done on what is and and isn't in Question 2, I thought it would be useful to start by taking a look at just what it is that we're voting on, anyway.

The question itself will say this:

QUESTION 2. Charter school expansion. The question, if approved, would let state education officials approve up to 12 new charter schools a year

Voters will either vote "yes" or "no" on that question.

The actual language that would be passed with the measure is an amendment to Mass General Laws, Chapter 71, Section 89. Chapter 71 is an education chapter (the one before it, Chapter 70, includes the education funding section, thus why we call state aid for education Chapter 70t), and section 89 covers commonwealth, that is independent of districts, charter schools. This section came in as part of the 1993 education reform law, and it was amended as part of the 2011 Act Relative to the Achievement Gap. We as voters thus would be amended the Mass General Law (which generally is the job of the Legislature).

I've cut and pasted the actual amendment language here below. I'll break in with comments, amplifications, or explanations as necessary.
SECTION 1. Subsection (i) of section 89 of chapter 71 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official Edition, is hereby amended by inserting after paragraph (4)
So that gets us through the definitions of who is who and who does what, the application process, the current cap (9% of most district foundation budgets/18% in the lowest 10% of districts), how the lowest 10% is determined, charter school enrollment.
the following new paragraph:— (5) Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection (i) relative to the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the commonwealth or in any district,
aka: all that stuff above about a cap? No longer in effect.
the board may approve up to 12 additional commonwealth charters, commonwealth charter amendments to increase authorized enrollment, or a combination thereof per year;
In other words, it could be 12 new schools, or 12 amendments to increase charter enrollment, or a combination.
provided that the total enrollment authorized by all such approvals in a single fiscal year shall not exceed 1% of the total statewide public school enrollment for such year as determined by the board;
While we won't get the new count on students for this year until after October 1, for last year, there were 953,429 public school students in Massachusetts. That has dropped a bit over the past ten years, but not dramatically. The Board could thus approve up to 9534 charter seats (or so) in a year.
provided further, that in the event that the number of qualified applicants in any year exceeds 12,
Thus note: this next part ONLY KICKS IN if they get 13 or more applicants in a year. This year? There were five.
the board shall give priority among such qualified applicants to those seeking to establish or expand enrollment in commonwealth charter schools in districts where overall student performance on the statewide assessment system approved by the board is in the bottom 25%
Student PERFORMANCE, note. Currently the bottom 10% (which have the larger cap) is determined by a combination of growth and performance. This was a major reform passed by the Board a few years ago, as performance has a crazily high correlation with family wealth and education. Growth is what schools actually do with kids. This section eliminates this reform.
At some point I'll do a post on this 25% calculation, but for now, read this post from last year.
And remember, that only kicks in when there are 13 or more applicants, and that only "gives priority" to those applicants. There is no requirement that those "low performing" districts get the charters first.
of all districts in the two years preceding the charter application and where the demonstrated parent demand for additional public school options is greatest;
How is this "parent demand" being measured? Will it be the same silent invisible parents some members of the Board of Ed were citing last year about Brockton?
provided further that the board shall apply to all such applicants review and approval standards as rigorous as those applied to all other commonwealth charter applicants;
Uh, ok.
provided further that the recruitment and retention and multilingual outreach provisions of paragraph (3) shall apply to any commonwealth charter school authorized under this paragraph;
...which has not, let's say, been a great success
and provided further that any new commonwealth charter schools authorized by this paragraph shall be subject to annual performance reviews according to standards established by the board.
currently, charters have their charters renewed every three years. Not sure what an "annual performance review" would look like, or how it would be handled by DESE, which already doesn't have enough staff.
Nothing in this paragraph shall affect the issuance of commonwealth charters under paragraph (3).
So these new charters don't impact the current way of creating charters; this is over and above that.
The percentages of net school spending set forth in paragraphs (2) and (3) shall not apply to or otherwise operate to limit the board’s authority to approve commonwealth charters or commonwealth charter amendments under this paragraph;
Thus, there is no cap on spending on charters anywhere in the state. There is no longer a 9% of foundation budget spending in most districts; there is no longer an 18% cap on spending in the rest of the state.
provided, however, that such percentages shall continue to apply to commonwealth charters issued otherwise than under this paragraph.
...which makes no sense. There's either a 9%/18% cap in districts or there is not. Districts are either over or under that percentage. EDIT: Unless...unless the thought is that DESE would run BOTH accountability rankings: one that includes both growth and performance, for the 9%/18%, and one for just performance, for the 25%. Effectively, that would make for a longer list to be hit first. Operationally, that doesn't seem to make much difference, though, as ultimately, the cap has been removed everywhere.
Except as provided in this paragraph, all otherwise applicable provisions of this section shall apply to commonwealth charters or amendments approved under this paragraph.

So that's what we're looking at with this question.
Vote no on 2.

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