BOSTON >> House Speaker Robert DeLeo said Tuesday he regrets not getting a charter school bill done and thinks the complex and controversial education policy issue shouldn't have been left to be settled at the ballot box this November.
Question 2 on November's ballot will ask Massachusetts voters whether to allow state education officials to approve up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions per year. A heated campaign is underway, with charter supporters saying the schools provide critical education opportunities to students who would otherwise lack them while opponents say they drain resources away from traditional public schools that serve a much larger portion of the state's students.
"I felt very strongly that this is something that should never have been to the ballot box. This is something we should have been able to debate," DeLeo said during an interview on Boston Herald Radio.
A supporter of charter expansion, DeLeo said, "I just want to give every child, no matter where they're from, the best education that they can. That's why I was so strongly disappointed that under what had happened we could not be giving those children those opportunities."
The Senate in April passed a bill that included a more gradual raising of the charter school cap along with a series of other education reform measures, including significant new long-term funding for all public schools across the state.
Senate President Stan Rosenberg has since described the bill, which passed on a 22-13 vote, as "a vision for the next round of discussion about the future of public education funding here in the commonwealth," regardless of how the charter ballot fight plays out.
After the Senate rejected a House-backed charter school bill in 2014, House lawmakers waited for their Senate counterparts to act first on the issue this session. But after the Senate passed its bill (S 2307) it never surfaced in the House for debate, with House officials saying it was unlikely the branches could reach an agreement that would have caused proponents of the ballot question to drop their effort.
"The Senate to their credit took it up," DeLeo said Tuesday. "Unfortunately quite frankly, I think the legislation that came out of the Senate in terms of what we had done was somewhat unworkable, and there was no possible way that we were going to be able to come up with a good piece of legislation based upon what the Senate had done."
"So with all due respect, I think it could have been avoided, I think it should have been avoided," DeLeo said of the charter cap decision coming down to the ballot.
Asked if he regrets not getting a charter bill done this session, DeLeo said yes and praised the effort that went into the House bill that was approved in the 2013-2014 session.
DeLeo, who grew up in Boston, said the education he received from the Boston Latin School, a public exam school, gave him a "great footing" to compete with students from wealthier communities and private school graduates when applying to college. He said he has spoken to parents from urban areas who want similar opportunities for their children, including those who say their kids thrived in charter schools but not "in the regular education system."
"Who am I as a speaker or a Senate president or a governor to tell a parent that no, we're sorry, we're not going to give your child that opportunity? And I've always been a strong supporter of public education," DeLeo said. "Many schools do a great job. Quite frankly they have a major role in what's going to happen with the future of that child."