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Massachusetts Charter Schools

Regulatory Notification of 2024-2025 "At-Cap" and "Near-Cap" Sending Districts for Commonwealth Charter Schools: Guidance for FY2025 Pre-Enrollment

To:Commonwealth and Horace Mann Charter School Leaders, Charter School Admissions and Enrollment Coordinators, Business Managers, and District Data Coordinators
From:Alyssa Hopkins, Assistant Director, Office of Charter Schools and School Redesign
Date:February 15, 2024

The charter school regulations state that "the Department [of Elementary and Secondary Education] shall notify each Commonwealth charter school no later than February 15 of any limitation on the number of students from a district that may be enrolled in charter schools for the upcoming year."
603 CMR 1.05(6)(d).

This memo should be read and reviewed in tandem with the FY2025 Pre-Enrollment and Waitlist Submission and Instructions Memorandum distributed to all charter schools and posted on the Department's website at Pre-Enrollment and Waitlist Data - Massachusetts Charter Schools.

Net School Spending Caps

Limitations on Commonwealth charter school enrollment from a district are a result of the net school spending (NSS) caps established by the charter school statute (G.L. Chapter 71, Section 89(i)(2)).

  • The charter school statute sets a limit on the amount of NSS that can be transferred from any single school district for payment of tuition to all Commonwealth charter schools. These are commonly referred to as "NSS caps."
  • Typically, the total amount of tuition transferred from a single school district to any Commonwealth charter schools for tuition payments may not exceed 9 percent of that district's NSS.
  • The charter school statute permits the amount of NSS transferred from any single school district for payment of tuition to all Commonwealth charter schools to exceed 9 percent (up to 18 percent) in those school districts that perform in the lowest 10 percent of school districts on statewide student assessments. The calculation of caps for districts that have exited the lowest 10 percent of school districts is complicated by a number of provisions in the charter school statute, footnoted below1.

Guided by the provisions of the charter school statute, the Department has determined the projected NSS caps for districts and the estimated seats (FTE) available for the 2024-2025 school year, under the relevant caps.2 All Commonwealth charter schools should use this guidance to plan for and conduct upcoming enrollment lotteries for the 2024-2025 school year. Please use this information to clearly communicate enrollment constraints to applicants seeking admittance for the 2024-2025 school year.

As more districts reach relevant NSS caps, Commonwealth charter schools face the possibility of proration of charter school tuition. Due to the mandatory language of the charter school statute, the Department has no discretion in determining the NSS cap and must ensure that district payments to charter schools do not exceed the relevant caps. The Department urges Commonwealth charter schools to carefully track enrollment of students from districts and the status of the district's NSS caps. Full charter school tuition cannot be guaranteed from districts projected to be at or near NSS caps, including exit cap districts. Please see information below about tuition payment for siblings when admission of a sibling causes a district to exceed its NSS cap.

Sub-caps

For almost three decades, the Department has utilized sub-caps to limit enrollment from specific districts to assist charter schools in managing enrollment within NSS caps. A sub-cap is an administrative limit at a particular charter school on the number of students that can be enrolled from a particular district. The goal, when setting sub-caps, is to avoid proration of tuition while permitting Commonwealth charter schools to enroll students up to the relevant NSS caps. These sub-caps operate in a fashion similar to maximum enrollment limits. These sub-caps set limits for the total enrollment from relevant districts, but do not guarantee tuition for the specified number of students. The statutory NSS cap, however, is a limit on the amount of tuition that can be transferred to Commonwealth charter schools in total from that district. See Table 4 for current sub-cap information for Commonwealth charter schools.

Siblings and NSS caps

The Commonwealth pays tuition for siblings when enrollment of a sibling causes a district to exceed its NSS cap. The charter school statute specifies that the Commonwealth pays tuition for "siblings attending commonwealth charter schools to the extent that their attendance would otherwise cause the school district's charter school tuition payments to exceed 9 per cent of the school district's net school spending." G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(2). If tuition payments from a district to Commonwealth charter schools do not exceed its NSS cap in any year, the district will resume payments for siblings who were previously admitted.

FY2025 Projected NSS Cap Designations

Using projected FY2025 enrollment numbers for charter schools, projected FY2025 tuition rates, and required FY2025 NSS figures, the Department's Office of District and School Finance has calculated preliminary projections of each sending district's FY2025 enrollment against the 9 percent NSS cap, 18 percent NSS cap, or other relevant NSS cap.

Given the data above and based on the Department's understanding of charter school growth plans for FY2025, the Department projects the number of "seats" (FTE) that will remain for charter school enrollment in each sending district after the FY2025 enrollment process has been completed. Based on this analysis and depending on how many FTE seats remain before potential proration of tuition, the Department has determined that certain school districts are "near-cap" and "at-cap" districts. The Department has also identified districts that are "exit-cap" districts and "approaching-cap" districts.

  • Listed in Table 1A and 1B, at-cap districts are projected to have no seats remaining and may be subject to proration if actual, non-sibling and sibling enrollment differs from FY2025 estimates and projections. At-cap districts are projected to have charter tuition assessments at or above the relevant NSS cap.

  • Listed in Table 1C and 1D, exit-cap districts are projected to have limited seats due to changes in the NSS cap when the district exited the lowest 10 percent ranking.3 Due to the limited number of seats available under the relevant NSS exit-cap and the risk of proration, only schools chartered to serve exit-cap districts may admit non-sibling students.

  • Listed in Table 2, near-cap districts are projected to have very few seats remaining and may be subject to proration if actual, non-sibling and sibling enrollment differs from FY2025 estimates and projections. Near-cap districts listed in Table are projected to have fewer than 10 FTE seats remaining or within 0.80 percent of the relevant NSS cap.

  • In addition, the Department has identified, in Table 3, districts that are approaching-cap. These districts are projected to have some seats remaining but might also be subject to proration if actual FY2025 enrollment exceeds projections by the FTE remaining. These districts have either fewer than 25 FTE seats remaining or are projected to have charter tuition assessments above 7 percent of NSS or 16 percent of NSS.

"Skip Over" for At-Cap, Near-Cap, and Exit-Cap Districts

In the case of at-cap districts, those listed in Table 1A and 1B, the Department will require Commonwealth charter schools to follow three directives due to varying seat availability.

  1. The Department will require all Commonwealth charter schools to skip over non-sibling applicants who reside in the district of Randolph due to estimates that FY2025 projected enrollment will substantially exceed the NSS cap, which increases the likelihood of tuition proration. All Commonwealth charter schools with Randolph in their charter region are required to skip over non-sibling applicants who reside in Randolph. If charter schools do not follow this directive, assume tuition proration for Randolph enrollment in FY2025 budget projections.
  2. In the case of other at-cap districts, the Department will require Commonwealth charter schools to skip over non-sibling applicants who reside in the districts of Boston, Nauset, Salem, Saugus, Tisbury, and Up-Island only if the charter of the school4 does not include these districts. New non-sibling enrollment could lead to tuition proration (603 CMR 1.05(10)(b)).5
  3. All regional Commonwealth charter schools with Nauset, Salem, Saugus, Tisbury, and Up-Island in their charter region may skip over non-sibling students who reside in the at-cap districts and who apply for enrollment. Regional charter schools with Boston named in their charter region are not subject to the skip over recommendation based on current enrollment projections. New non-sibling enrollment could lead to tuition proration (603 CMR 1.05(10)(b)).

Additionally, the Department will require Commonwealth charter schools to follow two directives for exit-cap districts due to limited seat availability. The Department will require Commonwealth charter schools to skip over non-sibling applicants who reside in the districts of Lynn and Malden only if the charter of the school does not include these districts. All regional Commonwealth charter schools with Lynn or Malden in their charter region may skip over non-sibling students who reside in the exit-cap districts and who apply for enrollment. See exit-cap districts in Table 1C and 1D.

As has been the case in prior years, in accordance with 603 CMR 1.05(10)(b), the Department recommends that charter schools exercise the option to skip over students who reside in the near-cap districts and who apply for enrollment. See near-cap districts subject to a recommended skip over in Table 2.

Charter school tuition from any districts identified as near-cap, exit-cap, or at-cap for FY2025 may be subject to proration. The Department cannot guarantee full tuition for students residing in districts with an exit-cap or projected to be at or near NSS caps. In addition, the Department also cannot guarantee full tuition regardless of a school's maximum enrollment or enrollment sub-caps. The Department will provide further guidance to charter schools that may be impacted by NSS cap designations for FY2025.6

Please note that in the event that a sending district's tuition assessment exceeds the applicable percent NSS cap, the Department will prorate equally that district's tuition assessment among all charter schools enrolling students from that district.

If, during your school's enrollment lottery, residents of a district subject to skip-over are selected, the school should place such applicants on its waitlist in the order in which they are selected. If seats become available or an individual student's enrollment preference changes because of change in residence or sibling status, those students could be offered admission. All schools must maintain accurate waitlist information based on the outcome of a school's lottery and admission of students from the waitlist.

Additionally, schools should communicate accurate information for families regarding the enrollment constraints for a specific district as determined by the Department and clearly explain admission practices, including those related to districts near or at the NSS cap, or with an exit-cap. Schools should inform families if they will be "skipping over" applicants from certain districts and placing them on the school's waitlist. Schools should clearly indicate that placement on the waitlist permits the school to offer admission if a vacancy occurs during the school year and if the district is no longer at or near its NSS cap.7

If you have questions regarding implementation of your enrollment policy or the guidance regarding implementation of skip over practices, please contact Brenton Stewart, Brenton.Stewart@mass.gov or 781-338-3214. Please direct any questions regarding NSS caps to Alyssa Hopkins, Alyssa.K.Hopkins@mass.gov or 781-605-4476.

Table 1A: FY2025 At-Cap District — Mandatory Skip Over
Skip OverAt-Cap DistrictsReasonAction
Skip Over Required for All Charter SchoolsRandolphOver NSS capMust skip over non-sibling residents
Skip Over Required if District is Not Named in Charter RegionBostonAt/Over NSS capMust skip over non-sibling residents
Nauset
Salem
Saugus
Tisbury
Up-Island

Table 1B: FY2025 At-Cap District — Recommended Skip Over
Skip OverAt-Cap DistrictsReasonAction
District is Named in Charter Region of Regional Charter School8 Nauset At/Over NSS cap

Regional schools chartered to serve these districts may skip over non-sibling residents9

Note: Schools cannot exceed their sub-caps. See Table 4.

Salem
Saugus
Tisbury
Up-Island

Table 1C: FY2025 Exit-Cap Districts — Mandatory Skip Over
Skip OverExit-Cap DistrictsReasonAction
Skip Over Required if District is Not Named in Charter RegionLynn Districts exited the lowest 10 percent ranking;
NSS cap set to support previously approved enrollment
Must skip over non-sibling residents
Malden

Table 1D: FY2025 Exit-Cap Districts — Recommended Skip Over
Skip OverExit-Cap DistrictsReasonAction
District is Named in Charter Region of Regional Charter SchoolLynn Districts exited the lowest 10 percent ranking;
NSS cap set to support previously approved enrollment
Regional schools chartered to serve these districts may skip over non-sibling residents9
Malden

Table 2: FY2025 Near-Cap Districts — Recommended Skip Over
Near-Cap DistrictsReasonAction
ConwayFewer than 10 FTE estimated available or within 0.80 percent of NSS capAll Commonwealth charter schools may skip over non-sibling residents
Edgartown*
Florida
Hadley+
Hancock
Leverett*
Marlborough°*
Medford°
Pelham
Petersham
Provincetown
Rowe
Savoy
Shutesbury
Wales
Warwick
Whately
Williamsburg*

° District within 0.80 percent of NSS cap. Marlborough Public Schools is projected to be at 8.2% NSS, Medford Public Schools is projected to be at 8.5% NSS.
* Districts new to the near-cap list for FY2025.
+ Districts recategorized from at-cap in FY2024 to near-cap in FY2025 based on projections.


Table 3: FY2025 Approaching-Cap Districts
Approaching-Cap DistrictsWhy Identified?
Bellingham+° Fewer than 25 FTE estimated available or within 2 percent of NSS cap

No action required or recommended

We encourage schools to monitor enrollment trends as these districts are approaching-cap and may be subject to tuition proration if enrollment diverges from historical trends.

Brimfield+
Brookfield
Cambridge*°
Chesterfield Goshen
Clarksburg
Deerfield
Eastham
Erving
Farmington Rive
Frontier
Hatfield
Hawlemont
Holland
Hudson+°
Nahant
New Salem Wendell
Oak Bluffs
Orleans
Richmond
Sandwich°
South Hadley+°
Springfield+°
Stoneham+°
Sunderland
Truro
Wellfleet
Westhampton+
Worthington*
Wrentham

* Districts recategorized from near-cap to approaching-cap based on projections.
+ Districts new to the approaching cap list for FY2025.
° District within two percent of NSS cap.
Note: Plainville and Plympton Public Schools are not identified as approaching-cap for FY2025.


Table 4: Current Enrollment Sub-Caps for Commonwealth Charter Schools
School NameDistrictSub-Cap
Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public SchoolWachusett Regional40
Brooke Charter SchoolBoston1960
Excel Academy Charter SchoolBoston748
Holyoke Community Charter SchoolChicopee125
Marblehead Community Charter Public SchoolNahant20
Mystic Valley Regional Charter SchoolEverett300
Mystic Valley Regional Charter SchoolMalden835
Pioneer Charter School of ScienceEverett400
Pioneer Charter School of Science IISalem8
Pioneer Charter School of Science IISaugus130


1 G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(3) is as follows.
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.
***
If a district is no longer in the lowest 10 per cent, the net school spending cap shall be 9 per cent, unless the district net school spending was above 9 per cent in the year prior to moving out of the lowest 10 per cent in which case the net school spending cap shall remain at the higher level plus enrollment previous approved by the board. The department shall determine and make available to the public a list of the school districts in said lowest 10 per cent.

G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(4) is as follows.
(4) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, if a district qualifying under paragraph (3) is no longer in the lowest 10 per cent, the net school spending cap shall be 9 per cent; provided, however, that if the board of elementary and secondary education previously approved a higher level of enrollment for a charter school in the district while the district was in the lowest 10 per cent, the net school spending cap shall remain at the level necessary to support such enrollment. This paragraph shall apply only to charter school enrollments approved before July 1, 2014.

2 These estimates are subject to change based on the Governor's proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year.

3 While exit-cap districts are similar to at-cap and near-cap districts due to the limited seats available, the Department has added this designation to clarify the status of Lynn and Malden as districts whose NSS caps are neither 9 percent nor 18 percent.

4 The districts specified in a school's charter are a material term. Regional charter schools draw students from more than one district, as specified in the school's charter. Non-regional charter schools draw students from the district in which the school is located. The districts in the charter of a school are indicated in a number of documents including, but not limited to, letters relating to renewal of charters or letters granting a charter amendment.

5 603 CMR 1.05 (10)(b) In cases where the enrollment of a student, who is not a sibling of another currently enrolled student, from the waitlist would exceed the district charter tuition cap, the student should be skipped over but kept on the waitlist. In cases where the enrollment of a student who is a sibling of a student already attending a charter school would exceed the district charter school tuition cap, the sibling may be enrolled with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts providing tuition for the sibling, subject to appropriation.

6 Due to provisions in the charter school statute (G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(3) and (4)) as well as the annual changes to the lowest 10 percent list, the Department will continue to work with districts and charter schools to ensure that rules regarding NSS caps are clearly understood and adequate notice is provided to all those affected.

7 It is highly unlikely that the list of districts at or near the NSS cap will change during FY2025.

8 Regional charter schools with Boston named in their charter region are not subject to the skip over recommendation based on current enrollment projections.

9 Whether single district or regional charter schools, tuition proration would be applied to all schools if the relevant NSS cap were exceeded.

Last Updated: February 15, 2023

 
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