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Patrick seeks to expand charter schools

A proposal by Gov. Deval Patrick could open the door to a charter school education for more Cape Cod students.

Patrick filed a bill yesterday that would triple the number of charter school slots, giving preference for expansion to charter schools that have already shown a high level of achievement.

The proposed legislation increases the number of charter seats in the lowest-scoring districts from 10,000 to more than 37,000, according to the governor's office. It also requires charter schools to recruit low-income students, special education students and those at risk of dropping out.

Eric Hieser, executive director of Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, said he and the school's board of directors would have to seriously consider the governor's proposal. "It opens up some possibilities that might not have been there before," he said.

Sturgis has become a perennial fixture on the Newsweek list of top-performing high schools across the country — this year hitting number 27. Its International Baccalaureate program, which gives students a college-level education, continues to gain national attention as an alternative to traditional advance placement courses.

In 2008, 96 percent of the school's sophomores scored advanced or proficient on mandatory English MCAS exams on the first try.

The 400-student school, which draws students from all of Cape Cod, Plymouth, Wareham and several South Shore towns, has a waiting list of 110 freshmen and 35 sophomores, Hieser said.

"It's exactly what a charter school should be," state Rep. Jeffrey Perry, R-Sandwich, said. "It's been highly successful without all the encumbrances that a public school could have."

Perry, a member of the state Joint Committee on Education, said he welcomes the governor's proposal to remove the cap on charter schools, citing the success and popularity of Sturgis.

Meanwhile, the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Orleans, which serves middle school students, is also bursting at the seams, but is less likely to look at expansion, director Katharine McNamara said yesterday.

"At this point our success is that we've remained small," McNamara said. Lighthouse has a total enrollment of 228 students in grades 6-8.

The governor's plan aims to strengthen the state's position in competing with other states for $4.35 billion in federal stimulus money as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to a Patrick spokesman.

Perry cautioned that stimulus funds should be used on capital expenses and not hiring personnel. "The problem with just using federal stimulus money is it's short term," he said. In order to sustain the program, money allotted for students through education aid must follow students to charter schools, Perry said.

The governor's plan drew immediate criticism from the Massachusetts Teachers Association, which said the proposal would hurt school districts at a time when budget cuts have already eliminated jobs and programs.

The teachers union maintains that charter schools take money away from the education of other public school students.

"Doubling the amount of money that charter schools can drain from our highest-poverty public school districts will do great harm to our students and our communities — and it will be especially painful during the severe recession we are now experiencing," Paul Toner, vice president of the union, said.

Perry said the teachers union, which spent $2.7 million on political contributions over the past three years, will be a significant hurdle. "We'll see a lot of lobbying against this."

By George Brennan
gbrennan@capecodonline.com
July 17, 2009

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Posted in: News on July 17, 2009 @ 10:57 AM

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