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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter School Authorizing Activities for 2013-2014

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
October 11, 2013


Between now and next March, the Board will be asked to take a significant number of votes related to its statutory role as a charter school authorizer. As I have done in past years, I am providing you with this memorandum summarizing the statutory framework for charter schools and the Board's responsibilities as the state's sole charter school authorizer, along with other related updates and a tentative schedule of charter school authorizing agenda items for the year.

The Statutory Framework for Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. States with charter school programs employ one or more of a variety of charter authorizers, including local school districts, municipal governments, universities, non-profit organizations, or state education agencies. In Massachusetts, the Board is the sole charter authorizing body. Charter schools were first introduced to Massachusetts as part of the 1993 education reform law.

We have two types of charter schools in Massachusetts: Commonwealth schools and Horace Mann schools. Commonwealth schools are completely independent of local districts, can draw students from many districts, and are funded by tuition payments from the sending districts. The charter school statute provides for partial reimbursement to school districts of tuition payments. Horace Mann schools are also independent schools, but they have a closer relationship with the local district. The local school committee and, in some cases, the local teachers' union must approve the establishment of Horace Mann charter schools; the district allocates equitable funding for the school's budget; and typically the district provides some central administrative services. There are currently 71 Commonwealth charter schools and 10 Horace Mann charter schools in operation, serving more than 35,000 students.

The Board's Charter School Authorizing Responsibilities

As the sole charter school authorizer in Massachusetts, the Board is responsible for awarding charters for terms of five years; approving amendments to charters, including changes in school size, grade levels, and location; and determining whether charters should be renewed for subsequent five-year terms. When deficiencies are noted, the Board has a range of actions it can take, including imposing conditions on a charter; placing a school on probation; and non-renewal or revocation of a school's charter. These decisions have significant impacts on charter schools and the students and families they serve, and they can also have a significant financial impact on local districts. As a result, the Board's deliberates on these matters with diligence and thoughtful attention.

Delegation to the Commissioner to Approve Certain Charter School Matters

At the recommendation of the Board's Charter School Committee, the Board has delegated to the Commissioner the authority (1) to renew charters, including renewing charters with conditions, provided such renewals do not involve probation; (2) to grant charter amendments that do not involve changes in grade span, maximum enrollment, or districts served; and (3) to remove or to continue conditions imposed on charters. These delegations of authority require the Commissioner to notify Board members in advance of intended actions and permit Board members to request that the Commissioner place the matter before the full Board for discussion and action. The Board continues to award new charters; to place a school on probation; to revoke or not to renew a school's charter; and to grant charter amendments that change a school's grade span, maximum enrollment, or districts served.

The Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign

The Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign is the unit within the Department that provides staff support to the Commissioner and the Board with respect to charter authorizing actions, innovation schools, expanded learning time, and other school redesign initiatives.

Tentative Schedule of Charter School Authorizing Agenda Items for 2013-2014

Attached for your information is the Tentative Schedule of Charter School Items, for October 2013 through March 2014, along with detail about pending charter amendment requests that may require Board approval. This month I will report to you about actions taken over the summer, pursuant to the authority delegated to me by the Board in June 2013. Four requests were received that required action prior to the Board's September 2013 meeting: two charter amendments for temporary relocations and two requests to waive the deadline for renewal applications. Please see the separate memorandum regarding these requests and my accompanying decisions. This month I am also requesting that you delegate to me the authority to approve a management agreement for UP Academy Charter School of Dorchester and UP Academy Charter School of Boston, two Horace Mann charter schools contracting with Unlocking Potential, an educational management organization.

Reminder about Board Member Participation in Public Hearings for Charter Applications

The charter school statute requires the Board to hold a public hearing in each city or town where a charter school has been proposed, with at least one Board member attending each hearing. These hearings usually occur in November and December. As we have done in the past, we will ask for two Board members to volunteer for each hearing, so that backup is available in the event of an unexpected last minute absence. The members who attend each hearing report back to the full Board when the final applications are discussed in February. I will be in contact with each of you regarding the hearings as soon as the schedule is finalized.


If you have any questions regarding these matters or require additional information, please contact Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner (781-338-3222); Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner (781-338-6500); or me.


Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Tentative Schedule of Charter School Authorizing Agenda Items for 2013-2014
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Charter Amendment Requests Pending Board Action (Grades, Enrollment, or Districts Served)

Last Updated: October 18, 2013
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