School Choice & Charters

Lifting Massachusetts’ Cap on Charter Growth Will Likely Go to the Voters

By Arianna Prothero — June 23, 2016 1 min read

It will likely be Massachusetts voters who will decide whether their state raises its cap on the number of charter schools allowed to open.

Just as a drive to put that question on the November ballot met a crucial deadline, Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg acknowledged that an attempt to pass a bill that would have eased the cap—albeit with several caveats—was all but dead, according to the Associated Press.

Although charter school caps are not uncommon (20 states plus the District of Columbia have such policies) Massachusetts’ law is one of the most restrictive, as I wrote last October:

Aside from a flat cap of 120 charters statewide, there are additional barriers. Most notably, there are limits on how much of a school district's budget can go to charters: it can't exceed 9 percent in most districts. However, that cap is slowly being notched up to 18 percent by 2017 in the lowest-performing districts based on state assessment results. Even though there are about 80 charters across Massachusetts—40 charter schools shy of hitting the statewide cap—some areas have already reached their regional limits. Among them is Boston, where with just under 30 campuses, the city has already reached the allotted number of charters that can open independently of the school district.

The state Senate approved a bill in April that would have raised the cap in districts with more at-risk students but would have mostly preserved the statewide cap. That measure was criticized by pro- and anti-charter school advocates. The Massachusetts House of Representatives never took action on the bill and, as the AP reports, discussions between the two chambers have stopped.

Meanwhile, the ballot committee looking to raise the cap by referendum announced Wednesday that it had collected over 30,000 signatures to place the cap question before voters in November. In addition to the bill and ballot question, there is also a lawsuit seeking to raise the cap.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.