The Changing Boston Charter Cap Scene

September 10, 2013

It’s not news that charter schools engender controversy, but if there’s one place where charters should be embraced with open arms, it’s Boston. According to the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, Boston charter schools are the highest performing in the country, offering “students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap.” Boston’s charters serve a broad cross-section of high-need students, comparable to the demographics of Boston Public Schools. What’s more, the general public strongly supports charter growth in Boston by a margin of about 3-to-1. A half dozen of these gap-closing charter operators are already beginning to build a foundation for scale, by adding students and grade levels and by replicating their successful flagship schools. Nevertheless, the powers that be at the state and local levels are blocking charter schools from further growth by continuing to support a statutory cap that limits the number of charter students to no more than 18 percent of the Boston Public Schools enrollment.

The political dynamic in the city is about to change, however, as long-serving Mayor Thomas Menino moves toward retirement at the end of 2013. Menino opposes charter school growth. Boston is a Mayoral control city, where the Mayor gets to appoint the school committee, which in turn appoints and oversees the schools superintendent. Boston’s superintendent Carol Johnson stepped down this summer, so the new Mayor will be instrumental in appointing a new superintendent at the outset of his or her first term. A strongly pro-charter Mayor could also wield significant influence over the state legislature in lifting the charter cap, at least in Boston. The popularity of charter schools among Bostonians and the growing number of families whose children attend them is potentially a huge political asset to a new administration – it can also be a credible threat. To date, the Boston charter sector has kept a fairly low political profile, in hopes of avoiding attacks, while pursuing incremental growth. Given a well-entrenched Mayor, that may have been the only viable option. But, the status quo has changed and it’s time for Boston’s charter schools to build up its latent political muscle. 

Today, I authored an article in Education Next exploring the shifting landscape affecting the charter cap in Boston. Read the full article here: Boston and the Charter School Cap