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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Proposed Amendment to Charter School Regulations, 603 CMR 1.00, to Enable Better Planning for School Districts and Charter Applicants

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
May 15, 2015

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Enclosed with this memorandum is a proposed amendment to the Charter School Regulations at 603 CMR 1.04(9). I recommend that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) vote at your meeting on May 19, 2015, to solicit public comment on the proposed amendment.

I anticipate the Board will take final action at the September meeting, unless the Board decides to hold a meeting over the summer.

The proposed amendment is a narrow revision to the regulation that specifies the method for calculating the list of school districts that perform in the lowest 10% on statewide assessments, for purposes of the charter school statute. Under the current regulation, the list is calculated and published fairly late in the charter application cycle. This year, it would be published after final applications have been submitted. The late availability of performance data creates considerable uncertainty for charter applicants and for school districts under current statutory requirements. The proposed amendment would calculate the lowest 10% based upon data available at the start of the charter application cycle. This would provide school districts and charter applicants the information they need to plan appropriately.

Background

Section 1.04(9) of the regulations specifies the method for calculating the list of school districts that perform in the lowest 10% on statewide assessments. The calculation is required for two purposes. First, this calculation is required to determine where charter schools may be approved during each annual application cycle as specified in M.G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(2): "Not less than 2 of the new commonwealth charters approved by the board in any year shall be granted for charter schools located in districts where overall student performance on the statewide assessment system approved by the board under section 1I of chapter 69 is in the lowest 10 per cent statewide in the 2 years preceding the charter application." Second, this calculation is required to determine which districts total charter school tuition payment may exceed 9 per cent of the district's net school spending as specified in M.G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(3): "In any fiscal year, if the board determines based on student performance data collected pursuant to section 1I, said district is in the lowest 10 per cent of all statewide student performance scores released in the 2 consecutive school years before the date the charter school application is submitted, the school district's total charter school tuition payment to commonwealth charter schools may exceed 9 per cent of the district's net school spending but shall not exceed 18 per cent."

The Board adopted section 1.04(9) in March 2014, as part of a comprehensive revision of the Charter School Regulations. The regulation aligns the lowest 10% calculation more closely to the calculation used for determining the lowest performing 20 percent of schools under the state school and district accountability system. As a result, the regulations now incorporate science scores and student growth percentiles in determining which school districts are in the lowest 10%. The proposals were discussed at length with various stakeholder groups and with the Board's charter school committee. Formal public comment was solicited and, at that time, the proposed change to the lowest 10% calculation did not elicit significant opposition.

The proposed amendment is a targeted change to 603 CMR 1.04(9) that would base the calculation of the lowest 10% on data available at the start of the charter application cycle, rather than in the middle of the cycle, so that everyone is well informed in a timely fashion. Without the proposed amendment, the late availability of performance data creates considerable uncertainty and confusion for school districts and for applicants. In last year's cycle, for example, the shift of two districts out of the bottom 10% resulted in a situation in which one charter applicant had to seek a waiver of the regulation from the Board at the November 2014 Board meeting, in order to permit consideration of its charter application on its merits. The proposed amendment will provide school districts and charter applicants the information necessary to plan appropriately.

Stakeholder views

The Department has shared the substance of the proposed amendment with, and solicited feedback from, a variety of stakeholders, including current charter school leaders and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association (MCPSA), the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS), and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC). While some debate continues about using student growth percentiles as part of the lowest 10% calculation, I continue to believe that it was appropriate for the Board to include student growth as part of this calculation in order to align it with the way we identify the lowest performing schools under the state accountability system. This proposed amendment does not change the inclusion of student growth in the calculation.

With the proposed amendment, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education would base the calculation of the lowest 10% upon scores released in the two years prior to the application deadline for new charters. This would permit the Department to publish the list of school districts in the lowest 10% at the beginning of the application cycle for charter schools and would enable charter applicants and school districts to plan effectively. While stakeholders recognize that, in the short-term, the proposed change could advantage some districts and disadvantage others, we believe that publishing the list at the beginning of the charter application cycle allows for more predictability and better planning for both charter applicants and districts.

Next steps

I recommend that the Board vote on May 19 to solicit public comment on this proposed change, as required by the state Administrative Procedure Act. After reviewing public comment and making any necessary revisions, I will bring the amendment back to the Board for a final vote. Although final approval would not come until the summer or fall, the public comment process will give notice to applicants of the anticipated change.

Attached, for your convenience, is an excerpt from the regulations with the proposed changes (Attachment 1). If you have any questions on the proposed change to these regulations, please contact Cliff Chuang, Associate Commissioner at 781-338-3222; Jeff Wulfson, Deputy Commissioner at 781-338-6500; or me.

Attachments:

Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Excerpt of proposed change to the regulations with tracked changes indicated
 
Motion to solicit public comment


Last Updated: May 21, 2015
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