Groups hope to open new charter schools and boost existing enrollment
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
FOUR GROUPS ARE LOOKING to open new charter schools in Massachusetts and four existing charter schools are hoping to boost their enrollment. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said Thursday it received proposals for new schools in Lynn, Haverhill, New Bedford and Lawrence.
The state’s existing 78 charter schools serve more than 42,000 students — 4.5 percent of all the public school students in Massachusetts. If approved, the four proposed new schools would serve an additional 2,168 students and the charter expansions would accommodate nearly 3,200 students.
“I am pleased that groups continue to be interested in opening high-quality charter schools, because we know that there are still many more children interested in attending a charter school than there are available charter seats,” Acting Commissioner Jeff Wulfson said in a statement.
The proposals are the first step in the process to opening a charter school. The department will announce by mid-September which groups, if any, will be invited to submit full proposals due by Nov. 1. Early next year, Wulfson will decide which finalists to recommend to the state board of education.
A charter school is a public school that operates independently of any school committee under a five-year charter granted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The school is governed by a board of trustees and has freedom in regards to its core mission, budget, and hiring and firing of staff. If the school does not produce positive results within five years, the charter is not renewed.
The proposals for new schools come after the dust has settled around a fiery charter school debate sparked by a 2016 ballot question. A proposed law to lift the state’s cap on charter schools was defeated by voters after it raised questions about school choice, class and the use of public funds.
The state’s existing cap on charter schools limits a district’s net school spending on charter school tuition to 9 percent. That rule is different for the state’s lowest performing districts, where the charter tuition cap is double: 18 percent. If more than 9 percent of net school spending goes to charter school tuition in those low performing districts, charter school officials applying to open a new school or expand an existing one must demonstrate they are “proven providers” with a track record of strong performance, especially for high-need students, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said.
Three of the four proposals for new schools would have to show they are “proven providers” because their districts have reached the cap. Those schools include Equity Lab Charter School, looking to serve 640 students in grades 5 through 12 in Lynn, and New Bedford Cheironeum, proposing to serve 1,008 students in grades 6 through 12.
Phoenix Charter School, which already operates in Chelsea and Springfield, is looking to open a third charter school in Lawrence for 250 students in grades 9 through 12. Phoenix Charter School only needed to submit a letter of intent at this stage in the process because the school’s trustees already operate in the state. It will still need to demonstrate it is a “proven provider” due to the tuition cap.
Massachusetts Wildflower Montessori Charter School, which wants to serve 270 children from kindergarten to eighth grade in Haverhill, does not need to demonstrate “proven provider” status because that city is under the 9 percent cap.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also received four requests to expand charter schools. Three are from schools in the western part of the state and one is from a Lynn charter school. If all four schools were granted expansions, they would create space for 3,196 new charter school students.
Holyoke Community Charter Public School would like to add a high school and bump enrollment from 702 seats to 1,141 seats. The school also seeks to add Chicopee, South Hadley and West Springfield to its region. The school unsuccessfully requested expansions in 2010 and 2013.
KIPP Lynn, which serves 1,586 students from kindergarten to grade 12, wants to add 1,014 seats. The school has been granted expansions in the past, though not always on the first try. It began a middle school and grew over time, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis said.
The Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, which serves a bevy of Western Massachusetts cities and towns, wants to significantly bump up its enrollment by adding 452 seats to its existing 584-student limit. The Chinese Immersion school has unsuccessfully requested to expand in previous years.
Veritas Preparatory Charter School in Springfield, which serves 324 students in grades 5 through 8, wants to add 108 seats. The school submitted a larger request last year but withdrew it, Reis said.
To determine whether to grant an expansion, the commissioner and the board will consider the success of the school’s academic program, organizational viability, faithfulness to the terms of its charter and the availability of existing seats under current limits. The department will consider comments from school superintendents and members of the public within each charter school’s proposed district or region. Comments on new school proposals will be heard in the final application stage.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved three new charter schools in February. The state granted charters to Hampden Charter School of Science – West in Westfield to open in 2018, Map Academy Charter School in Plymouth to open in 2018 and Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School to open in the fall.
The board also granted expansions to Foxborough Regional Charter School, Boston Collegiate Charter School, Boston Preparatory Charter School and Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis. Additional expansions were granted to Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford, Community Charter School of Cambridge and a temporary increase in enrollment for UP Academy Charter School of Dorchester. In total, the expansions added about 1,000 charter slots.