Statement by MTA President Paul Toner on “An Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement”

The House Ways and Means Committee is considering a bill (House 3984) that would make changes in state laws governing low-performing schools and charter schools. MTA President Paul Toner has issued the following statement on the legislation. 

Statement by MTA President Paul Toner on “An Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement”

The legislation now being considered has some strong points and would take certain steps that the MTA opposes.

We support the bill’s proposal to authorize the commissioner of education to identify “Challenge Schools” from among the lowest-performing 20 percent of schools. The goal is for the stakeholders in these schools to collaboratively develop improvement plans – with significant input from teachers and their local associations through collective bargaining to improve student achievement.

We strongly believe that collaboration is the right path for our students. It will allow educators to have a real voice in the process and make appropriate use of their classroom expertise, which has helped make Massachusetts number one in the nation in student achievement.

If the parties agree on an improvement plan, a Level 3 school would avoid the designation of “underperforming” and the Level 4 process, under which teachers lose significant collective bargaining rights.

We do not, however, support the plan contained in the bill to increase net spending on charter schools because it is unnecessary. The current limit of 18 percent is still being phased in and has not been reached in any district.

The bill does not change either the current cap of 72 Commonwealth Charter Schools statewide or the current exception to that cap in the lowest-performing 10 percent of districts.

The bill contains language that would allow net school spending on charter schools to increase in those districts, either by increasing the number of seats in existing charter schools that have been successful in improving student outcomes or by authorizing new charters operated by providers with proven track records. If new charters are authorized in these districts, it would push the number of Commonwealth Charter Schools beyond 72.

Under this plan, the process of increasing the charter schools’ share of net school spending in certain districts from 18 percent to 23 percent would not start until 2018. The limit would rise 1 percentage point annually through 2022.

Instead of increasing net school spending on charters, we believe that all schools – charter schools and regular district schools – should share best practices. Many schools have developed strategies to narrow the achievement gap that are replicable and are having a positive impact on students.

Although opposed to the increase in net school spending on charter schools, we do appreciate the effort by the bill’s sponsor to hold charter schools that wish to expand more accountable and to restrict the kinds of charter schools that can expand.

This would be achieved by requiring that charters enroll student populations from these categories, among others:  at-risk students, English language learners and special education students. In addition, the charter school applicant would have to agree to an opt-out admissions policy, or the school’s primary purpose would have to be to provide an alternative setting for dropouts or students at risk of not graduating on time.

The intent of these approaches is to ensure that any new charter schools actually reflect the demographics of the students in the area and to prevent charter schools from “skimming” student populations through enrollment practices and selective attrition – practices that the MTA has long opposed.

We will monitor this legislation carefully in the coming months and support appropriate steps to help all students succeed. The bill contains positive proposals concerning low-performing schools, and we believe they deserve detailed consideration by the Legislature. In addition, we urge the Legislature to fully fund charter reimbursements to local districts each year.

View a legislative summary of the bill provided by the Joint Committee on Education.