For Immediate Release - October 13, 2015

Governor Baker Testifies on Legislation to Improve and Expand Educational Opportunity and Charter Schools

BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker today testified before the Joint Committee on Education on H.B. 3804, “An Act to Improve and Expand Education Opportunities,” which was filed by the governor last week to add up to 12 new Commonwealth charter schools and/or expansions annually – outside of the current cap of 120 – focusing the growth in districts that are performing in the bottom 25% of districts statewide.


Testimony as Prepared for Delivery:

“Good morning.  Let me begin by thanking Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Peisch and the members of the Committee for including me in today’s testimony.  Our administration looks forward to working with you and your colleagues as we continue to strengthen our public education system here in the Commonwealth.

Some quick history.  Over 20 years ago, a bipartisan coalition enacted an education reform law that has more than stood the test of time.  I’m quite sure its original sponsors, including former Senate President Tom Birmingham and former Governor Bill Weld, would say it exceeded even their lofty expectations.  The bill itself had three main features:

  • A foundation budget to level the financial playing field between high income and low income communities;
  • Statewide curriculum frameworks and an ongoing assessment process to see how we were doing, and;
  • Charter schools, state sanctioned public schools that would work on closing the education opportunity gap that had historically left too many kids behind.

Over the past twenty years, this combination of financial support, high standards and assessments, and terrific charter schools has succeeded.

Massachusetts is the only state that has finished first in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams in both math and English, and we have done it five times.  If we were a country, our science scores would put us in the top ten countries on the planet for high school students.

Our charter schools are the envy of the nation, delivering amazing results for over 40,000 kids here in the Commonwealth, almost all of whom come from disadvantaged communities and underperforming school districts.  In fact, most of the highest performing schools in the Commonwealth are charter schools that serve students located in some of the state’s lowest performing school districts.

But today, despite all this positive progress, the difference in overall student achievement in underperforming school districts and the rest of the Commonwealth remains too high, while some 37,000 children sit on waiting lists, trying to get into the Commonwealth’s very successful charter school network.

Nothing makes this point clearer than a charter school lottery.  Held before the start of each school year, parents and children gather – their number in hand – to find out if this time, their number comes up.

Everybody cries over charter school lotteries.  Everybody. They cry because it is totally binary.  You either win, or you lose.  There is no in between.  Whether or not your number comes up is all about hope and opportunity, and for far too many children in Massachusetts, the answer to this very basic question about their education is “no.”

As Rodolfo Aguilar, a parent with two children at the Brooke Middle School in Mattapan said last week, his kids deserve the same education opportunity as kids get in wealthier communities.  Zip codes should not determine the quality of a child’s education.  

Our legislation seeks to address this concern.

First, it would allow for a modest annual increase in the statewide charter cap, focused only on those communities that are in greatest need of high-quality school options.

There are just under 1,900 public schools in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  Only 81 of them are charters.  This bill would authorize a maximum of 12 charter schools annually, a little more than six-tenths of one-percent of the state’s public schools.

Charter schools in Massachusetts are widely recognized as the strongest in the country, yet we have one of the country’s most restrictive caps.

A key reason why Massachusetts charters are so strong is that we have high standards for approvals and renewals.  Our rigorous evaluation process will continue to ensure that only highly qualified applications are approved under this amendment to the charter law.

In addition, this proposal would provide charters with greater flexibility in their enrollment lotteries to allow preferences for high-needs children, including students with learning disabilities, English language learners, low-income students and other at-risk populations. 

Charter school operators are often criticized, unfairly I think, for not serving a full cross-section of students.

I served for several years on the board of the Phoenix Charter School network, which operates alternative high schools in Chelsea, Lawrence and Springfield.  Phoenix focuses on students who have either dropped out of school, or are on the verge of dropping out.  And they deliver.

Every child who graduates from Phoenix, and the vast majority do, was told many times they would never graduate from high school.  And yet they not only graduate, they usually go on to a two year or four year collegiate program.  Phoenix works, in large part, because they build their model around their kids, not the other way around.

This bill would give more charter schools the opportunity to create additional teaching models that can work for some of our most underserved students.

It would also make it easier for both Horace Mann and Commonwealth charters to partner with their local school districts and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to turn around Level 4 and 5 schools.

And it would enable charters to become part of district-wide, choice-based enrollment systems, such as the one now being discussed in Boston.

I understand that everyone doesn’t see this issue the same way I do.  There is much to discuss.  Our administration stands ready and available to work with you, and with others, to make sure that all kids here in the Commonwealth have the opportunity to receive the kind of elementary and secondary education that they can build a life and a future on.

But don’t mistake an interest in dialogue for a willingness to let the clock tick.  The time is already long past to address this issue.  If you enacted this legislation tomorrow, most of the 37,000 children who currently reside on charter school waiting lists would never find their way into a charter school.  Those parents would probably say – with great force and legitimacy – that this is far too little for them and for their kids.  And they would be right.

This is Massachusetts.  We are the home of public education, and our charter schools have leveled the educational opportunity playing field for thousands of kids and their families.  We should celebrate their success, and seek to build on it.  The kids deserve it.  Their parents deserve it.  And I know working together, we can get it done during this legislative session.

Thanks very much.”