Our Opinion: Lift charter cap with due care
The raising of the limit on charter schools in the state seems inevitable, whether by legislation or a 2016 referendum. Legislation assuring growth is incremental is preferable.
On this page, Julia Bowen, the executive director of the BART charter school in Adams, makes the case in a letter to the editor for lifting the caps based on the success of the Berkshire school. Indeed, many concerns about the educational standards of charter schools and fears they would cherry-pick the best students and avoid others have lessened in recent years as the schools have become established.
However, in testimony last month before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Education, state Auditor Suzanne Bump said her exploration of the charter school issue unearthed "little more than anecdotal evidence" that charter schools better meet the needs of students than traditional public schools. Concerns remain that the funding mechanism for charters unfairly penalizes traditional public schools within a district.
Charter school advocates, who rallied Wednesday in Boston in favor of lifting the cap, have been accused by opponents of violating state laws limiting political activity by public employees. The state Ethics Commission may determine whether or not this is the case, but the spirit of the law has certainly been broken in this aggressive campaign for more charters.
Charter schools have produced innovative ideas, like longer school days, that traditional schools should adopt rather than resist. But with so many questions remaining, it is incumbent upon Beacon Hill to avoid a headlong rush into more charter schools by allowing a limited number of new schools while seeking better measurement tools, as urged by the auditor, to better determine the merits of charter schools compared to their counterparts.