Editorial: Don’t raise the cap

Lawmakers continue to wrestle with the idea of lifting the state’s cap on charter schools and allowing more to open.

We urge them not to do it.

Although there are children and communities where the creation of a public charter school might be beneficial in providing education, there continue to be too many drawbacks to the present setup — ones that leave the commonwealth’s public schools in a lurch.

The biggest problem continues to be how charter schools are funded.

Massachusetts continues to rely on a funding mechanism that takes precious dollars away from the student’s “home” district and gives them to the charter school. While a 2010 law has the state fully reimbursing school districts for per-pupil costs for the first year a student is enrolled in charter school, that money drops off to 25 percent of the cost for the next five years.

That’s a deficit, even by any new math standard. And, as it turns out, the state reneged on its promise and hasn’t reimbursed public schools for the past two years — and this year’s budget would continue to come up short in fully funding the affected schools.

One proposal that legislators are considering would tie the cap to reimbursement funding — the cap would be frozen in place until the state fulfilled its reimbursement commitment. This idea has charter school proponents crying foul — while continuing to ignore the inequities that exist with the way the funding formula is set up and carried out.

We get that charter school proponents — filled with zeal for their new educational ideas — are more than willing to jettison public school districts that are seen as failing. But siphoning off money from them isn’t going to improve their performance — or, more importantly, help those students who get left behind.

Instead of increasing the number of charter schools, Massachusetts should be finding ways to improve its public schools — including changing the funding formula. Applying charter school innovations that have been found to lead to successful outcomes to public schools is one such step. Undoubtedly, there are more ways to see public schools improve.

But shrinking the money they have to operate isn’t one of them.

“Growth in the charter school sector for the mere sake of growth neglects the central justification for their existence: to improve the current public educational landscape for children and their families,” wrote the authors of a report from the National Education Policy Center that looked at charter schools nationally in 2012.

We agree. Don’t raise the cap until the funding mechanism is fixed and the state is fulfilling its promises to our public schools.

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