The Codcast: Charter battle heats up in New Bedford
Think the battle over charter schools in Massachusetts is over? Think again.
Voters may have soundly defeated a ballot question two years ago to raise the cap on charters, but there is plenty of room in some communities under the existing cap to add more charter school seats. One of them is New Bedford, where the next big charter battle may play out.
Two charters there are looking to expand. Together they are asking the state to approve more than 1,300 new charter seats. Meanwhile, a third group is applying to open a new charter in the Whaling City.
Mayor Jon Mitchell has come out strongly against the expansion proposals, arguing they would be devastating to city finances and the state of its district schools.
The head of the state charter school association, Tim Nicolette, penned an op-ed last week in the New Bedford Standard-Times in support of the charter growth and the options they give families who are desperate for quality school options. He said New Bedford is the fourth lowest performing school district in the state. “Parents and students deserve better, and they shouldn’t have to wait another generation to get it,” he wrote.
Mitchell said state and city funds that charter expansion would draw would make it even more difficult to fund the city’s already financially strapped district system, and called the proposals “unreasonable.”
“I want to see kids have the greatest and the broadest opportunities that we can make available for them, but this is at the end of the day a zero sum proposition for cities that are financially constrained,” said Mitchell, noting that New Bedford property tax bills have soared 24 percent in the last five years, while the city has closed one school and one firehouse
As for the capacity to add more charter seats in New Bedford under the existing state cap, he said, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
But state education officials have generally considered only the strength of a charter school proposal and interest among local families in such a school in weighing charter applications, with the concerns of municipal leaders — who almost always view charters negatively — not figuring prominently in the decision-making. Indeed, the state charter school law vests full power over charter school authorization in the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education because of the natural tension between the publicly-funded, but independently run, schools and officials overseeing district school systems.
Mitchell recently laid out his argument in CommonWealth on the ways the charter school funding system is broken. “I hate to sound pessimistic about it, but there aren’t easy solutions,” he said on the Codcast.
Mitchell is hardly a crusading anti-charter zealot. Indeed, he praises the innovation charters have brought to public education, including longer school days, greater flexibility over curriculum, and school-level autonomy.
“I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any mayor in America who wouldn’t like to see some of those built into their district schools,” he said of the features common in charters. Mitchell said the city has been able to bring some of those reforms to the district in recent contract agreements with the teachers union, and he supported a bill filed in the recent legislative session that would have allowed districts to create “innovation partnership zones” made up of schools within a system that would operate independently of the central district office.
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Braintree Mayor Joe Sullivan and Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller say cities can clean up the transportation sector. (CommonWealth)
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Former CIA head John Brennan said he is considering going to court to fight Trump’s revocation of his security clearance. (Washington Post)
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Hillary Chabot marvels at the long list of big-name Democratic pols in the state, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, US Rep. Seth Moulton, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who have been zigzagging the country on behalf of “anti-Trump” Democrats in battleground states, while ignoring their party’s gubernatorial hopefuls at home who are hoping to dislodge Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. (Boston Herald)
About the oddly-timed state primary, which falls on the day after Labor Day, Secretary of State Bill Galvin, who is responsible for setting election dates in the Commonwealth, says it was the least worst of the bad options available to him. (Boston Globe)
State Rep. Geoff Diehl, the state’s leading Trump supporter and one of three Republicans vying to take on Sen. Elizabeth Warren, repeats the falsehood that GDP is at 4.1 percent growth and pushing the economy to 5 percent growth which “we never saw under the Obama administration.” (Keller@Large) The rate was topped at least four times under the previous administration.
WBUR explains how the six candidates for Suffolk County district attorney would change the office.
Five of the 11 candidates running to replace US Rep. Niki Tsongas in Congress are millionaires (Eagle-Tribune)
The Lowell Sun profiles the Democratic primary race between incumbent Rep. Colleen Garry and challenger Sabrina Heisey to represent Tyngsborough and Dracut. The Lowell Sun also explores the crowded field of Democrats hoping to succeed Eileen Donoghue in the Senate.
Locally owned drug stores may be making a comeback in Massachusetts after years of being squeezed and bought out by national pharmacy chains. (Patriot Ledger)
Video game developers are making it harder for players to turn off, raising concerns among parents and mental health experts about the effects of extended gaming. (Wall Street Journal)
Rain shrinks the crowd, but doesn’t dampen enthusiasm for Beyond Walls mural festival in Lynn. (Daily Item)
New York University’s School of Medicine announced it will cover tuition for all current and future students, a move that may push other top medical schools to offer free tuition. (New York Times)
A new approach to opioid addiction, where the desire to get clean can be fleeting: On demand treatment centers where those who walk in are dealt with right away. (Boston Globe)
Boston University’s controversial Biosafety Level 4 laboratory, which faced years of opposition because it planned to study some of the world’s deadliest pathogens in a densely populated urban neighborhood, is up and running in Boston’s South End. (Boston Globe)
Deb Pasternak of the Massachusetts Sierra Club says Quebec hydroelectricity isn’t a good fit for Massachusetts, in part because it won’t help reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions. (CommonWealth)
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A Boston Globe editorial puts the kibosh on the idea of having the state take over operation of the commuter rail system from Keolis.
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Salem gives zoning approval to its first retail pot shop, a business led by Suffolk Downs executive Chip Tuttle and Nahant resident Don Wyse. (Salem News)
State Treasurer Deb Goldberg says she’s not worried that casinos will hurt the state lottery, in part because of a provision of the state casino law mandating that casinos include space for lottery sales. (Boston Herald)
Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson is opting out of a pilot program at jails around the state that would use medicine to treat opioid-addicted inmates who enter with prescriptions or who are near their release. (Herald News)MEDIA
Meghna Chakrabarti and David Folkenflik start today as the new hosts of WBUR’s On Point.