Boston mayor seeking reform for government schools, but more rules for charters

January 2, 2013

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Trevor TenBrink Trevor TenBrink

Trevor was website administrator for EAG from December 2012 to March 2014.
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By Ben Velderman
EAGnews.org

BOSTON – America’s self-proclaimed “Education Mayor” has big plans for reforming K-12 schools in 2013, and teacher union leaders and some charter school supporters aren’t too happy about them.

bostonmayorBoston Mayor Thomas Menino is calling for an expansion of current state law, which allows leaders of low-performing school districts to impose “a longer school day, staff shake-ups, alterations to the curriculum, merit pay for teaching staffs, and other measures” without the consent of the local teachers union, reports the Boston Globe.

Currently, about 40 percent of Massachusetts’ schools qualify as “turnaround schools,” which grants leaders the greater flexibility. Menino’s proposed legislation would confer those powers to about 50 percent of state school leaders, The Bay State Banner reports.

Menino’s legislation would eliminate the cap on in-district charter schools, “a hybrid model that uses unionized teachers but limits the scope of work rules that interfere with education reform,” notes the Boston Globe. It would also strip local teachers unions of their power to veto the renewal of in-district charters.

Single-sex schools, classes and educational programs would also be allowed under the mayor’s plan.

Unsurprisingly, Big Labor doesn’t support many of Menino’s proposals.

“This is a sign he is saying collective bargaining doesn’t work, which is a regrettable turn of events,” said Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman, according the Boston Herald.

If Menino’s suggested legislation focused solely on relaxing labor rules for underperforming public schools, more education reformers would be cheering him on. Unfortunately, the Education Mayor’s “initiative also places ill-conceived restrictions on independent charter schools, including widespread changes in funding formulas and transportation policies,” notes a Boston Globe editorial.

Menino  wants to “set aside seats in charter schools for students with disabilities and those who don’t speak English as their first language,” supposedly to level the playing field between charter schools and their government-run counterparts, reports the Boston Herald.

Such a requirement is completely unnecessary, as charter schools are already obligated to serve all students who seek admittance, regardless of their needs. And when student demand exceeds a charter’s capacity, the schools randomly select individuals through a lottery system.

Menino certainly knows this, which makes his suggested requirement seem like a bald-faced attempt to pacify members of the education establishment who aren’t happy with his other proposals.

If lawmakers end up forcing charter schools to dedicate a certain percentage of their seats to disabled and non-English speaking children, it could potentially put charters in a serious financial bind.

Should a charter school fail to fill all of its “special needs” seats, it would be left with empty desks and a lot less funding. That could have disastrous effects of charter schools that already operate on a limited budget.

Overall, the Boston Globe praises Menino for “choosing school improvement over labor peace,” but chides the mayor for “undermining the mainstream charter school movement in the process.”

That’s a pretty fair assessment of the proposed changes in Beantown.

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