The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Charter Schools — Authorizing Activities for 2018-2019

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
October 19, 2018

Between now and June 2019, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) will take a significant number of votes related to its statutory role as a charter school authorizer. Similar to prior years, this memorandum summarizes the statutory framework for charter schools and the Board's responsibilities as the state's sole charter school authorizer and provides other related updates and a tentative schedule of charter school items for the year.

Legal Framework

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. Across the nation, states with charter school programs have one or more charter authorizers including local school districts, municipal governments, universities, non-profit organizations, and state education agencies. In Massachusetts, the Board is the sole authorizer of charter schools.

Charter schools were first introduced to Massachusetts as part of education reform in 1993. The charter school statute is found at G.L. c. 71, § 89. The charter school statute specifies that the purposes of charter schools are:

  1. to stimulate the development of innovative programs within public education;
  2. to provide opportunities for innovative learning and assessments;
  3. to provide parents and students with greater options in choosing schools within and outside their school districts;
  4. to provide teachers with a vehicle for establishing schools with alternative, innovative methods of educational instruction and school structure and management;
  5. to encourage performance-based educational programs;
  6. to hold teachers and school administrators accountable for students' educational outcomes; and
  7. to provide models for replication in other public schools.

Massachusetts has two types of charter schools, Commonwealth and Horace Mann. There are currently 74 Commonwealth charter schools and 8 Horace Mann charter schools in operation, serving more than 48,000 students. The updated Charter School Fact Sheet is attached to this memorandum for your convenience.

Commonwealth charter schools are governed by boards of trustees, are completely independent of local districts, can draw students from many districts, and are funded by tuition payments transferred from sending districts based upon the number of district students attending the school. The charter school statute provides a schedule for reimbursement to school districts for increases in tuition payments to Commonwealth charter schools.

Horace Mann charter schools also are governed by boards of trustees and operate independently of school committees. Horace Mann charter schools, however, 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 must equitably fund the school. Typically, the district also provides some central administrative services pursuant to a memorandum of understanding negotiated with the charter school.

Board's Responsibilities

As the sole charter school authorizer in Massachusetts, the Board is responsible for:

When deficiencies are noted in charter school operations or academic outcomes, the Board has a range of actions it can take, including imposing conditions on a charter, placing a school on probation, and revoking or not renewing a school's charter.

Commissioner's Responsibilities

The Commissioner is responsible for making recommendations to the Board and providing the Board with the information needed to make well-informed decisions. The regulations authorize the Commissioner and the Board to impose or to remove conditions on a charter for specific reasons. In practice, the Commissioner typically notifies the Board before taking any action related to conditions. If the situation is serious enough to warrant probation with conditions, that decision rests with the Board. Pursuant to the regulations at 603 CMR 1.10(2), the Commissioner is also responsible for granting the following amendments to the material terms of a school's charter:

At the recommendation of the Board's Charter School Committee in February 2013, the Board also delegated to the Commissioner the authority to renew charters, including renewing charters with conditions, provided such renewals do not involve probation. This delegation requires the Commissioner to notify Board members in advance of intended actions and provides Board members an option to request that the Commissioner place the matter before the full Board for discussion and action. As stated above, the Board continues to award new charters; to place a school on probation; to revoke or to not renew charters; to approve contractual relationships with education management organizations; and to grant charter amendments that change a school's grade span, maximum student enrollment, and the districts specified in the school's charter.

Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign

The Department's Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign is the unit in the Center for Educational Options that provides staff support to the Commissioner and the Board with respect to charter authorizing actions, innovation schools, virtual schools, and other school redesign initiatives. The mission of the office is to support and to oversee the creation and sustainability of a variety of high quality options for public schools - including, but not limited to, those that innovate in the areas of instructional practice, time, resources, and technology - to ensure that all students in the Commonwealth have equitable opportunities for success after high school.

Charter School Initiatives

The Department continues to advance priorities related to access and equity. During the past six months, the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign has worked to revise the Charter School Performance Criteria to ensure the Department communicates expectations regarding equity and racial equity clearly to schools and stakeholders. For purposes of this initiative, we define equity in the following manner: educational equity means that a student's race, gender identity, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background, and family income do not limit the student's access to educational resources or rigor; all students receive what they need to achieve success in life.1

The ten (10) Charter School Performance Criteria define expected performance in the three guiding areas of charter school accountability: faithfulness to charter, academic program success, and organizational viability. The Charter School Performance Criteria provide clear guidance about how the Board, the Department, and the commissioner define charter school success and on what basis charter schools will be evaluated. The revisions to the Charter School Performance Criteria were created in alignment with other Department efforts to address equity in schools and are based upon a similar revision to the Department's District Standards and Indicators.

For example, Criterion 7 was revised to include more detailed descriptions of the expectations regarding school climate and family engagement.

Original: The school supports students' social and emotional health in a safe and respectful learning environment that engages families.

Revised: The school creates safe, positive, healthy, culturally responsive, inclusive, and welcoming learning environments. These environments cultivate supportive, authentic relationships and a strong sense of belonging and connection, which value the diverse assets and voices of all students, staff, and families.

The Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign has sought and incorporated feedback on the revisions from charter leaders, chairs of boards of trustees, and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. Changes to the Charter School Performance Criteria will not affect authorizing activities currently underway, such as schools applying for renewal of charters, charters seeking expansion amendments, or new charter school application processes. The revised Charter School Performance Criteria will inform all accountability site visits scheduled for approximately 30 schools during the 2018-2019 school year.

The Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign also continues to engage charter schools in data-based conversations focusing on student discipline practices. This work is being done in conjunction with the Department's Office of Student and Family Support and the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. Nine charter schools identified last winter continue to work with the Department's professional learning network to reduce the use of suspension.

Additionally, the Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign continues to engage stakeholders in discussions about the statutory net school spending caps that govern the amount of tuition per district that may be transferred to fund charter school enrollment. Recent examples of the complexity of the statutory provisions related to the net school spending caps point to a need to continue to work collaboratively with external partners to communicate clearly and frequently about the impact of these caps on charter schools and the administration of the charter school program.

Tentative Schedule of Charter School Authorizing Agenda Items for 2018-2019

Attached for your information is the Tentative Schedule of Charter School Items for September 2018 through June 2019, including information about pending requests for charter amendments and charter renewal decisions that may require Board approval. The tentative schedule will be updated as needed during the year.

Public Hearings on Charter Applications

The charter school statute requires the Board to hold public hearings in every city or town where a charter school proposes to locate and also requires at least one Board member to attend every hearing. These hearings will occur in early December. As we have done in the past, we will ask for two Board members to volunteer for each hearing, so that at least one individual is in attendance in the event of an unexpected last-minute absence or delay in arrival. 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 Alison Bagg, Director of Charter Schools and School Redesign (781-338-3218); Cliff Chuang, Senior Associate Commissioner for Educational Options (781-338-3222); or me.


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Charter School Fact Sheet
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Tentative Schedule of Charter School Items, October 2018-June 2019