State Senate Passes Complicated Education Bill

Senator Ives
Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives

BOSTON – The State Senate passed legislation on Thursday, by a 22-13 vote, which seeks to help students in all public schools in the Commonwealth.

Senate Bill 2203 “An Act Enhancing Reform, Innovation and Success in Education,” or The RISE Act, renews the Commonwealth’s commitment to education by ensuring adequate funding of the public school system by implementing recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission and passing important reforms to charter school policy.

Under this legislation, the charter school cap lift would be tied to funding the Foundation Budget Review, allowing the increase of the charter school cap to be proportional to funding. Once the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommendations are fully funded, the charter school cap lift is frozen if district mitigation is not fully funded.

Importantly, an amendment offered by Senator Michael O. Moore and supported by Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, would require that a school committee or other elected municipal governing body vote to approve a charter school. If a local school district does not approve the charter, the state’s Department of Education may approve the charter, but under those circumstances the state would have to assume the cost of the charter.

Should a community approve a charter school proposal, this legislation encourages greater collaboration between district and charter schools. Charter school proposal applicants would be required to meet with district superintendents and hold a public hearing where members of the community may thoroughly vet proposals. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education would be required to consider the findings of these hearings and to heed the advice of the district superintendent regarding the impact on the district’s students.

If a charter school is approved, The RISE Act encourages charter schools to share their innovative approaches with the district schools which serve the majority of students. The legislation creates an exchange program between district and charter school teachers to share best practices and establishes an Innovative Education Trust Fund to support Horace Mann and Innovation Schools. In order to further support Innovation Schools, Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives filed an amendment that was adopted by the Senate which removes the requirement for private matching funds for districts to access the Innovation School Trust Fund.

“The RISE Act passed in the Senate addresses the needs of all students in the Commonwealth, instead of four to eight percent of students that the ballot question would,” said Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives.

In addition, Senate Bill 2203 would level the playing field between district schools and charter schools by holding charter schools accountable to the high standards of accountability and transparency in which district schools are held. Charter school teachers would be required to be certified, to comply with the state’s educator evaluation system, and prohibits charter schools from charging fees for attendance or requiring parents to sign contracts. Charter schools would also be required to publicly disclose their finances, contracts, policies and board of trustees meeting minutes. The composition of the charter school boards would also be required to include a teacher at the school, a school committee member from the sending district, and parents.

Several provisions of the legislation also seek to modernize funding by reformulating charter school reimbursement as district impact mitigation. All school districts with students in a charter school would be given mitigation payments from the state for three years at 100 percent in the first year, 50 percent in the second year, and 25 percent in the third. An amendment