Editorial: boston.com, September 16, 2009

Legislature must respond to clamor for better schools
Deval L. Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, offers up two must-pass bills to shake up underperforming schools.

FROM THE HIGHEST reaches of the Obama administration to the parents of children in dysfunctional classrooms in Boston and elsewhere, there is a clamor to shake up underperforming schools. Tomorrow, the Legislature’s education committee will take up two must-pass bills from Governor Patrick.

One would give the state Board of Education the clout it needs to intervene in underperforming district schools, including the suspension of collective bargaining contracts. The board needs this to remove bad teachers, expand the school day, reallocate existing budgets, and change curriculum in the state’s worst schools.

The second bill - just as important - would dramatically increase the number of charter school openings in the lowest-performing 10 percent of school districts. Right now, more than 20,000 children are on waiting lists for the state’s charter schools, which feature longer school days, better schedules, and, in many cases, higher MCAS scores. Failure to raise restrictive caps on charter schools could disqualify the state from receiving more than $200 million in federal funding for education.

Under current law, districts that lose students to charter schools also lose funding - up to 9 percent of their instruction and administrative budgets. Patrick would double that. Teachers unions and school committees are howling. But the public should save its pity for the students whose educational futures are in jeopardy. Not all charter schools are great. But Patrick’s bill protects families against trading one bad option for another by limiting new seats to high-performing charter schools that make sound efforts to recruit students with special needs and limited English skills.

Lawmakers should take on this challenge, and without the usual Beacon Hill bank shots. There’s a move afoot to demand a lower student reimbursement rate for charter schools as a condition for raising the cap. Lawmakers should not fall for this ploy, which would only undermine the state’s 64 existing charter schools.

Recess is over. These two bills deserve the Legislature’s full attention and support.

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