By Colin A. Young, STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
EDITOR'S NOTE: We have emailed the Cape's school district administrators, state senators and state reps for their reaction to this story, and we will publish their responses when we receive them.
As he prepares charter school legislation he plans to file this fall, Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday said expanding school choice options for Massachusetts students and families will be a goal of his administration's first term.
"If we do what we need to do as public leaders we will find a way, in a democracy where we don't get our way all the time, to create more opportunities for kids to go to great schools and get great educations here in the Commonwealth no matter where they live," Baker said in an address to a group of students from the Excel Academy Charter High School. "That is going to be one of our goals over the course of the next four years."
Baker has voiced his support for a ballot initiative to expand access to charter schools across Massachusetts, but reiterated Friday he also plans to file his own legislation, creating another way for advocates to achieve a goal that died on Beacon Hill last year.
"It's no secret I'm a big fan of charter schools." - Baker
"It's no secret that I'm a big fan of charter schools. I have been since the beginning," Baker told the 117-member inaugural freshmen class at the charter high school. "And the history and the experience of the performance of students like you in charter schools has more than borne out the hopes and dreams and aspirations we all had for the charter school movement when we first put it in place back in the 1990s."
The ballot initiative Baker supports would allow the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to authorize up to 12 new public charter schools or existing school expansions each year.
The petition would not change the existing state or district level caps, and specifies that charter school seat growth cannot exceed 1 percent of statewide student enrollment each year, but the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education could go around the caps if they deem it warranted.
Under current law, charter schools can only account for 9 percent of net school spending in a given district before they are capped. In the lowest performing districts as determined by students' test scores, the cap climbs to 18 percent.
"I think the evidence at this point is pretty overwhelming. We've had a whole series of independent studies done, some by organizations that are here and some by organizations that are in other parts of the country, that charter schools in Massachusetts have delivered a very strong and high-quality product to kids here in the Commonwealth," the governor told reporters after his address. "Some of the highest performing schools in Massachusetts are charter schools located in under-performing school districts and in the end here, what I'm really interested in is just making sure every kid gets a great education, but I don't really care about which model it is."
Baker addressed students from the Excel Academy Charter High School -- which is temporarily located in South Boston -- before they began a model United Nations debate over the global response to pandemics following the 2014 Ebola outbreak. Excel Academy has a middle school in East Boston and its new high school is under construction there as well.
The governor spoke in June at a gala for the Excel charter school network and said he holds the schools in high regard.
"I drive by Excel Academy every day on my way into the office and on my way home," Baker said. "So I've watched that school get constructed and I'm now watching the high school get constructed. Everything I've ever heard about Excel Academy has been enormously positive."
Above: Baker stops to talk with students from Excel Academy Charter School [Photo: Antonio Caban/SHNS]