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Boston School Committee will consider taking a stand on lifting the charter cap

In September, the Boston School Committee will debate whether to oppose a ballot question that would lift the state's cap on new charter schools.

"I am concerned and I would trust the superintendent is concerned" about the impact on BPS finances that could come with more charter schools draining students away, School Committee Chairman Michael O'Neill said at a meeting tonight.

Committee members agreed to begin thinking about the decision in August and come ready to calmly and not emotionally discuss numbers that BPS staffers will prepare on the specific potential impacts on Boston schools in the committee's first meeting in September. The committee would then vote on the issue two weeks after that.

The question is one of four on the statewide ballot this November.

Under state law, the committee can take a position on the ballot question, but it can't spend any money to support its position, so no letters to parents, O'Neill said.

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Comments

BPS MAKES money on every student that goes to a charter. They never cut the city school budget and the state pays them off for a few years when the kids leave. (I know they haven't been paying everything they owe, but they will eventually - the state can't just stiff the city without getting sued and losing)

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The law regarding charter reimbursement is subject to appropriation. In the last two budgets and in the next, FY17, they are reimbursing at about 60% of formula. The rate at which charter reimbursement is funded has dropped over the three year period by single digits each year. There is no cause of action against the state.

People have been asking the school committee to consider the effect of charter expansion on Boston Schools and now they will. Yay.

Baker's ballot referendum would raise the cap from 18% of district budget to 100% at the rate of 12 charters a year total in any of 25% of MA school districts, typically the ones with lots of kids living in poverty, ESL, Special Education and immigrants.

Boston is fairly unique in that a majority of kids in BPS are from poor families while the district itself has a strong tax base. Cities like Fall River have the poverty but not the tax base.

Chapter 70 funds help school districts with a poor tax base but charter expansion in those districts take more and more of the chapter 70 money,

Two years ago, a BPS parents calculated the amount of charter expansion that would basically eliminate chapter 70 funds for BPS.

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Stevil - Think about the logic of what you just said....we open charter schools and more money goes into the public school at the same time. So where is this magical pool of money that is paying for a student to go to a charter AND the state pays the city? If that were true, we should be up in arms that we're paying so much for every charter seat.

The fact is simple; enrollment is what drives everybody's budget. Drop the enrollment, the budget drops. Not only that, but the city still has to pay for the charter school infrastructure. Ever think to look at how much the city is paying for charter school transportation?

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While enrollment in BPS has plummeted, the budget has skyrocketed. The cost per pupil at least in operating costs is through the roof. The BPS budget completely ignores enrollment - it's essentially set at 35% +/- of total city expenditures and has remained there from the time enrollment was 70k students to now when it's about 55k students. And that's in a city whose budget has increased at roughly twice the rate of inflation - meaning the school budget per capita is up well north of twice the rate of inflation.

As for transport - or any of this for that matter - somewhat irrelevant - if the kids weren't in charters and getting transported to them - they'd be in BPS getting transported to schools.

You say check the facts - but virtually everything you say is incorrect - or irrelevant - those costs are borne by the city whether the kid is in BPS or a charter.

The post above yours is troubling if true - the state made a deal and is now reneging on that deal. My guess is that they are setting priorities and knowing that Boston is one of the wealthiest communities in the state they are reallocating budget elsewhere (and that charter reimbursement is probably overly generous to begin with) but a deal's a deal and I'd be curious to learn more about how the state can say they'll do one thing - and then simply say "oops".

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Stevil, there are plenty of cities that use more than 35% of their budget on schools and education. The percentage isn't untrue, but it came out of nowhere as a piece of rhetoric to rile up voters this year, even though it is perfectly reasonable for our city to be spending that amount.

As for rising costs despite reduced enrollment: well, besides the fact that 8,000 Boston students go to charters. Let's say, simply because I don't have numbers in front of me, that only 5,000 of those students did or would have gone to BPS. Well if those kids all came from one or two schools, we could just close those schools down. But they came from across 125 schools. And all those schools had staffing (biggest segment of education budget) needs that essentially remained unchanged because even though there are 40 fewer students (a loss spread across years, not a single budget cycle) the rest of the students there still need an art teacher, nurse, etc. Imagine we had a nuclear family and one of our boys didn't tell me until last minute that he was eating dinner at a friends house. I had already planned on buying a rotisserie chicken and don't have time to switch plans and cook chicken at home. Even though there will be 4 of us eating instead of 5, I still had to buy the whole rotisserie chicken. Basically, even though the size of a school changes slightly, based on federal laws for what must be provided and that students' needs for the same array of services/subjects, it is exceptionally difficult for schools to scale back their budgets proportional to the loss and still meet these requirements and needs.

The second issue is that the state's foundation budget widely underestimates the real cost of educating special education and English language learners. Despite rising COLA, the foundation budget has not changed in TWENTY YEARS. Check out MassBudget's research on this.

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I think of charters having an impact on the city budget more than the BPS budget directly. Just like with chapter 70 funding, charter school reimbursements are not added directly to the BPS budget, nor is charter tuition directly taken out of the BPS budget - these are all just separate things that the city budget has to account for. In the past couple of years, it feels like the city's budget department has increasingly acknowledged charter tuition as a part of the city's total education spending, rather than considering it to simply be a reduction in chapter 70 revenue. And if you look at the FY17 budget, the department is definitely showing real concern about the consequences of a charter cap lift:

As Boston looks to the future, voter approval of the proposed charter school cap ballot initiative could have a shocking effect on the City’s finances

If charter schools are added and there isn't a corresponding reduction in the BPS budget, it will absolutely have an impact on the entire city's budget, which should concern every taxpayer. If a decision is made to add charter schools and reduce the BPS budget as a result, I don't think anyone will have a hard time understanding why the school committee would oppose that decision, either.

Please bear in mind that this is a separate discussion from whether you might support the idea of a charter cap lift in the abstract. If the city isn't prepared to reduce the BPS budget quickly enough to offset the impact of adding more charter schools in the short term, we're going to see a pretty significant impact on the budget. Maybe some people think that's worth it, I don't know. But in any case, if your statement that BPS makes money as charter schools are added was intended to imply that a charter cap lift would actually benefit BPS, I don't think I can agree.

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I agree - the separation of these revenue and expense streams gets extraordinarily complex. However, BPS has made out like bandits under the current system. I agree - I can see why the committee would be frightened by this because if people got to see a consolidated statement of what we are REALLY spending on education (and what we are getting for those dollars) they'd be apoplectic. Perhaps not as bad as the MBTA revelations this morning - but certainly a cause for alarm.

BPS doesn't make money directly on those payments - effectively after all the accounting tricks are completed, it all goes into a general fund. At least historically every student that shifts to a charter costs BPS zero relative to the budget (as noted above - BPS budget is effectively 35% of the total budget - regardless). For every $3 we get in reimbursements, BPS gets $1 and the rest of the city gets $2 for "other" purposes and it doesn't go to the schools as intended. However, it's still net incremental revenue to BPS that comes through as part of their overall budget - but perhaps recognizing that in a large system, if one kid leaves - the cost of absorbing the overhead of that departure is nowhere near what the state is reimbursing the system.

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Put this story in the paper. Check.

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