BOSTON >> The Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill backers say would allow more charter schools in districts that serve at-risk students while largely seeking to maintain the existing statewide cap on the schools statewide.
The bill, approved Thursday evening on a 22-13 vote, would increase spending on charter schools in lower performing districts while requiring more public disclosure of the schools' finances, policies, contracts and board meetings.
Beginning in two years, the bill also would tie increases in charter school seats to increases in state education aid.
Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg has said that the bill builds on lessons the state has learned from 20 years of charter schools.
The proposal has been criticized by both charter school critics and charter school supporters, however, including most notably Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.
Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from local school boards.
Supporters say they offer high-quality educational alternatives for students but critics argue they drain financial resources from traditional public schools.
A proposed question for the November ballot would add up to a dozen new or expanded charters each year outside of existing state caps.
During the debate, the Senate adopted an amendment that would require every commonwealth charter school application be subject to the local approval of the school district expected to enroll students in the school.
Those charter school applications could still be approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over the objection of the local school district, but they would have to be funded by the state without having an effect on the local district's budget.
The issue has pitted charter school activists against the state's teachers unions, the most vocal opponents of the charter school movement.
Save Our Public Schools, a ballot committee formed to oppose the charter school ballot question issued a statement moments after Thursday's vote saying that while the Senate bill attempts to fix some of the flaws in the charter school system, it would "perpetuate the very serious problem in lifting the cap: the expansion of a separate and unequal education system."
Great Schools Massachusetts — which supports the ballot question expanding charter schools in Massachusetts — also criticized passage of the Senate bill, saying in the proposal "does nothing to expand access to high quality public charter schools for the thousands of families in urban communities that desperately want it."
Even if it's approved by both legislative chambers, the Senate bill is unlikely to resolve the state's heated debate about the future of charter schools or persuade charter school supporters from backing off their plans to put the question before voters in the fall.
Baker, a longtime fan of charter schools, has specifically criticized the Senate bill saying it offers little relief to 34,000 students currently waiting to get into a charter school.
The bill now heads to the Massachusetts House.