BOSTON — Thousands of students applied for coveted seats in Massachusetts’ public charter schools last year only to be turned away because of a state-mandated cap on enrollment.
“We’re a small school, and we like it that way, but we could see adding another 100 students in coming years,” said Sean O’Neil, executive director of Salem Academy Charter School, which has 372 students in grades 6 to 12 and about 360 more on a waiting list to get in. “But, unfortunately, the cap prevents us from doing that.”
Charter school advocates want the cap lifted, arguing that the taxpayer-funded schools in most cases perform better than expected and deserve to grow. They’re backing legislation on Beacon Hill that would gradually ease the limits on how many students can enter charters and allow new schools to be built to accommodate the demand.
Opponents say the taxpayer-funded schools siphon away limited education funds and cherry-pick the best students from regular district schools, many of which struggle academically. They want the state to focus more on improving regular public schools.
“We should stop trying to create a parallel public school system and focus more attention on the system that educates 95 percent of our kids,” said Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which opposes lifting the cap. “These schools are drawing more and more state resources away from the districts and students that need it most.”
This year, more than 750 students applied for 170 openings at the Community Day Charter School in Lawrence, one of two state-funded charter schools in the city. Executive Director Sheila Balboni said the school currently doesn’t have plans to expand, but the demand from parents proves there is a desperate need for another charter school in the city.
“There should be more opportunities for other charters to develop, so the families on our waiting list have an option,” she said. “We need to do something to meet the demand.”