Reading the tea leaves on new education secretary’s charter vote
IN THE ENDLESS debate over charter schools, there is often a stark line dividing people into the pro-charter or anti-charter camp. Education Secretary Patrick Tutwiler insists he occupies different ground.
“I’m in the kid camp,” he said on Tuesday, and who could argue with him as he folded his 6-foot-5-inch frame onto the floor to play with 4-year-old Alisha during a visit to the Horizons for Homeless Children preschool in Roxbury.
All eyes were on Tutwiler last week as he cast his first vote on a charter school proposal as Gov. Maura Healey’s top education deputy. Tutwiler voted against authorizing a new Worcester charter school, though he was in the minority, as the state education board voted 7-4 to approve the new school.
Tutwiler, a veteran public school educator who served as superintendent of the Lynn schools for four years, said his decision was based on a specific shortcoming of the proposal: its failure to show it would use a proven model for serving English language learners. The vote was driven by his “values of equity, access, and excellence,” Tutwiler said at the meeting. “My decision should not signal a position on future charter applications.”
“I hope it’s the turning of a corner,” said Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools and a frequent charter school critic. She said it was heartening to see Tutwiler frame his decision with “a larger lens in terms of equity and inclusion for the students in Worcester.”
Max Page, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which has aggressively fought against charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run, usually with non-unionized teachers, also welcomed the new secretary’s vote. “It was a good sign that he is not going to be a rubber stamp for charter schools,” said Page. “He is a thoughtful and insightful person, and read the application and saw the shortcomings of the proposal and voted no.”
Charter schools have been a polarizing issue ever since their introduction as part of the 1993 Education Reform Act. Proponents hail the innovation and choice they can bring, while critics say they divert money from district school systems and don’t enroll students with the greatest needs.
The Baker administration was solidly pro-charter, and teachers unions and other critics are hoping the new Democratic administration will bring a more skeptical eye to charter proposals.
“We knew all the time where Secretary Peyser stood,” said Beth Kontos, president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, referring to Baker’s education secretary, Jim Peyser. “He very much was invested in charter schools, invested in their spread and continuation.”
Tutwiler said he has no preconceived belief in the superiority of district or charter schools. “I am agnostic when it comes to governance models,” Tutwiler said following his tour of the Roxbury center for homeless children. “I love good schools. And I would say there are a number of charter schools that have done really well in supporting kids and realizing their dreams.”
He cited one, in particular, when casting his vote last week: KIPP Academy, which runs a K-12 charter school program in Lynn, where Tutwiler was district superintendent. “We partnered around the idea that we can get more done collaborating than we can by fighting with one another,” Tutwiler said.
Under their leadership, KIPP and the Lynn schools are collaborating on a pilot program, Pursuing Pathways, that draws 10 students from each sector and has staff from both the charter school and district sharing best practices as they jointly counsel students on college and career readiness goals.
Tim Nicolette, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said his group has had “positive conversations” with Tutwiler since he became secretary, and worked well with him when he was superintendent in Lynn. “I take him at his word,” Nicolette said of Tutwiler’s explanation that he had specific reservations about the Worcester charter school proposal.
Tutwiler is scheduled to speak next month at a biannual gathering of Massachusetts charter school leaders convened by Nicolette’s organization.
Tutwiler’s stance is similar to that of Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, who has tried to distance himself from the charter wars by saying he is committed to good schools, regardless of their governing structure.
The Worcester application was the first proposal for a new charter school that Riley recommended and brought to a vote in the five years he’s been in office. On this one at least, the two education leaders who claim allegiance to the “kid camp” landed in different cabins.
DiZoglio to audit Legislature: Following through on a controversial campaign pledge, state Auditor Diana DiZoglio said she plans to audit the Legislature, where she served for more than a decade as an employee, state representative, and senator and bridled against many of its practices. Her auditor predecessors said such an audit could not be done, and some sought legislation to allow it, but DiZoglio says she does have the power to review the Legislature’s practices.
– The audit creates an interesting political dynamic. DiZoglio notified the Legislature about her planned audit hours after testifying before a joint House-Senate legislative committee on her budget requests for the coming fiscal year, which means she is auditing the very office that decides how much she can spend.
– Initial reaction from lawmakers was muted. Senate President Karen Spilka said the Senate is already audited each year by a public accounting firm, but that audit appears to focus on financial matters and not the more political subjects DiZoglio is interested in investigating. House officials were not immediately available. Read more.
New tone with lawmakers: Gov. Maura Healey set a new tone as she presented her budget to a House-Senate committee. Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington said the Healey administration has shown an interest in talking over ideas with lawmakers. “That’s really different from my many, many years here before where things would happen and we would get told. We would get told. This was much more ‘we want your feedback on this.’” Read more.
Campbell opposes JetBlue purchase of Spirit: Attorney General Andrea Campbell joins a lawsuit opposing the acquisition of Spirit Airlines by JetBlue. She said the lawsuit’s purpose is to preserve the fee-heavy airline’s “unique and disruptive” role. Read more.
Breaking the cycle: Moddie Turay of the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp. says affordable housing can break the cycle of poverty in many ways. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Secretary of State William Galvin seeks a bigger budget than Gov. Maura Healey recommended to deal with early and mail-in voting. (Eagle-Tribune)
Healey vowed to establish a state office focused on missing persons. (Boston Globe)
A report commissioned by the town of Blackstone slams UMass Dartmouth for covering up allegations that a campus police officer sexually assaulted and harassed a student. The university, according to the report, allowed the officer to quietly resign and land a new job in Blackstone investigating sexual assaults and working with students in schools. (WBUR)
A downtown civic group laid into Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s plans to remake the Boston Planning and Development Agency for only including one neighborhood representative on a steering committee drawing up reform recommendations. (Boston Herald)
Gloucester signs a consent decree with state and federal environmental regulators to build a secondary sewage treatment plant at a cost of about $150 million. (Gloucester Times)
President Biden’s pick to serve on the Federal Communications Commission withdraws after a 16-month battle with cable and media industry lobbyists who blocked her appointment and engaged in personal attacks. (Washington Post)
Felix D. Arroyo quietly resigned last week from his elected post of Suffolk County register of probate. The governor will name a successor to hold the office until the next state election, in 2024. (Boston Herald)
A statewide poll shows strong support for Boston’s rent control plan and for allowing other communities to set limits on rents. (Boston Globe)
A Globe editorial calls for improved state oversight of cannabis testing, citing a CommonWealth investigation that found little consistency in reported levels of THC, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, and contaminants in medical and recreational pot sold by licensed Massachusetts outlets. Our best guess is that Shira Schoenberg, who wrote the investigative story for CommonWealth, wrote the editorial as she is now working for the Globe’s editorial page.
A passenger recounts how he and others restrained a Leominster man who went on a rampage during a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston. (Associated Press)
Passengers aboard the Amtrak Downeaster will be able to continue consuming alcoholic beverages while passing through New Hampshire as the state and the rail line figure out how to deal with a Granite State law requiring all alcohol consumed in the state to be purchased there. Amtrak currently purchases its alcohol elsewhere. (New Hampshire Public Radio)
Facing stiff local opposition, a developer withdraws a plan to build housing above the MBTA parking garage in Beverly. (Salem News)
The Massachusetts Municipal Association is asking for $330 million a year to go to public road projects, citing increases in project costs and materials. (MassLive)
Temperatures soared to more than 50 degrees above normal in parts of Greenland, raising new concerns about the massive ice sheet there and climate change. (Washington Post)
So-called “flushable” wipes are wreaking havoc on septic systems and the environment, and a new bill would require labels warning consumers not to flush them down the toilet. (Worcester Telegram)CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS
Gov. Maura Healey is reviving the issue of free prison phone calls, proposing to waive costs for state prisoners, up to 1,000 minutes per month, but her plan does not cover county correctional facilities, which hold more than half of the state’s incarcerated population. (Boston Globe)