Baker on charters: I just want the cap lifted

"This is a great opportunity for us to do the right thing for the children"

Educators, parents and advocates launching a ballot initiative seeking to expand access to charter schools were joined Monday by Gov. Charlie Baker, who again voiced his support for lifting the cap on charter school seats.

"We're here today to talk specifically about a ballot proposal to lift the charter school cap," Baker said to applause. "My view on this is really simple: I don't really care how the cap gets lifted, I just wanted the cap lifted."

Great Schools Massachusetts, a coalition of charter advocates backing a ballot question that would authorize up to 12 new public charter schools or existing school expansions per year, held a rally in the State House Monday, kicking off efforts to drum up support and get the measure passed by gathering signatures.

While framing their plans as a way to expand school choice, charter advocates for years have met a wall of resistance on Beacon Hill, where teachers' union officials and some lawmakers have argued that charter schools are draining funds from traditional public schools.

The Senate in 2014 rejected a bill to provide for a limited expansion of charter schools after a similar measure cleared the House. Lawmakers have yet to resume the charter school debate in 2015 and Baker, who made expanded charter school access a theme of his campaign last year, hasn't filed a charter bill but plans to do so.

In addition to the possibility of charter laws being rewritten through the ballot or through the legislative process, charter advocates recently filed a lawsuit intended to bring relief to students who have been turned away due to space constraints.

Referencing a 37,000-name waiting list for students seeking a spot in Massachusetts charter schools, Baker called it a "fundamental notion" that every child deserves to attend a high-quality school.

"This is a great opportunity for us to do the right thing for the children and the families who so desperately want to do the right thing for their kids in the Commonwealth, and I look forward to a successful campaign to create great schools everywhere in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts," Baker said.

Dubbed "An Act to Allow Fair Access to Charter Schools," the initiative was certified earlier this month by Attorney General Maura Healey. Proponents must now collect 64,750 voter signatures by November before the effort can move onto the next stage in hopes of placing the question on the November 2016 ballot.

Rally attendees heard from speakers who shared their experiences with charter schools. A mother who is homeschooling her children after her 9-year-old daughter talked about being rejected from eight charter schools due to lack of space. A college sophomore and single mom attributed her high school diploma to the help she was given in a charter after dropping out of a traditional public school.

Lee Alexander, the mother of an eighth grader who attends the charter school KIPP Academy Boston, said she wished her son could continue there through high school because she believed the faculty would ensure he got into college. The school is blocked from expanding to include high school because of the current cap, Alexander said.

"He's being shut out of a great public school education," she said. "For the life of me, I can't figure out why."

Rep. Frank Moran said a lack of access to charter schools could shut out thousands of kids from the education they need, pointing to the longer days and extra one-on-one instruction time many charters have the ability to offer.

"We're erasing the politicians, teachers, and nurses of tomorrow," said Moran, a Lawrence Democrat.


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