"Right now, in Massachusetts we're in charter application season," said Andrew O'Leary, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Operations at New Bedford Public Schools. This is the time year when prospective charter schools submit their applications to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). In New Bedford, an interest group has formed to propose a new charter school, which brings back recent memories of intense public debate.

New Bedford has two well-established charter schools, Global Learning Charter School and Alma Del Mar. There used to be three, but in 2020, the City on a Hill charter school was forced to shutter its doors after noncompliance with fundamental educational standards. Like many municipalities throughout the Commonwealth, the issue of whether charter schools are a net benefit or a drain of critically needed resources for public school students has been at the forefront of the debate on public education.

Currently, New Bedford should be at its limit for charter school seats, but an exception in state law that is carved-out for districts with lower MCAS scores allows for New Bedford to double its charter capacity to 18 percent of net school spending.

The problem is, we don't know for sure if New Bedford remains one of the lowest testing districts. Despite the fact that metrics for student success have seen historically high marks in the district, DESE has frozen New Bedford into the lowest-percentile classification for purposes of charter expansion. An 18 percent or more divestment from New Bedford students could not only stymie the successes that have been achieved, but it could also imperil high-need students by significantly limiting the resources available to them.

Much like the formulaic error in the Student Opportunity Act that is costing New Bedford Public Schools $3-$5 million in state aid, the Commonwealth is using dated numbers and metrics to make guesses on the educational needs of New Bedford students.

Recently, I was joined on-air by Assistant Superintendent O'Leary to discuss the new charter school proposal and how it could propel New Bedford education into an economically uncertain future. You can listen to the full conversation here:

Marcus Ferro is the host of The Marcus Ferro Show airing Saturdays on 1420 WBSM from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Contact him at marcusferrolaw@gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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