SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 25, 2014

Advocates look to lift cap on state-funded charter schools

(Continued)

Community Day currently has about 330 students, and the Lawrence Family Development Charter School has more than 600 students, according to state figures.

Statewide, nearly 35,000 students attend 80 state-funded charter schools, according to the state Department of Education, with more than 40,000 on waiting lists. The state-imposed cap depends on the health of a public school district but prohibits the most troubled districts from spending more than 18 percent of their budget on charter students.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, would ease that limit in the state’s most troubled districts, but it has been deadlocked amid debate over state funding for charters, which operate independently from regular public schools. In current form, the bill requires charters to cover shortfalls in state education funds for newly enrolled students in years when the money falls short, as it has in several previous budget cycles.

State law now requires school districts to pay for the education of a child who transfers to a charter school for at least six years after the student is accepted — one of the most generous reimbursements in the nation. The cost varies by district. At Salem Academy, the estimated reimbursement per pupil is about $12,000 a year, while it ranges from $13,000 to $14,000 a year at the two state-funded Lawrence charter schools. The average statewide is $12,296 per student.

In the past two years, the Legislature did not fully reimburse school districts that lost students to charter schools. It eventually passed a supplemental budget last year to help close the gap. That has fueled opponents of lifting the cap, who argue that the state can’t afford to fund additional students at the charter schools.

Mitchell D. Chester, the state’s education commissioner, said he favors allowing charter school operators to take over and “turn around” a troubled public school instead of building new charter schools or expanding the existing ones.

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