Education Commissioner Jeff Riley said Friday morning he is "still looking into" how to handle a New Bedford charter school expansion that state education officials have cheered as innovative but which has met strong pushback in the State House.

A deal approved by both the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the New Bedford City Council would allow the Alma Del Mar Charter School to open a new 450-seat campus at a former city elementary school, drawing students from a new neighborhood enrollment zone. If enabling legislation does not pass, the school will instead be allowed to open a 594-seat campus that enrolls students through the lottery enrollment process typically used by charters.

Rep. Christopher Markey filed the necessary bill on May 2, and it has faced a bumpy path. Critics of the bill have used procedural moves in the House and Senate to delay its referral to the Education Committee, postponing consideration until after Riley's suggested end-of-May deadline.

After originally saying he wanted the bill passed by early May, Riley on May 21 told the board that he had been receiving "positive communication" from Beacon Hill and hoped to have a decision by the end of the month. Riley on Friday joined Education Secretary James Peyser to testify on Gov. Charlie Baker's bill allowing schools to establish innovation partnership zones. He did not elaborate on where the Alma Del Mar expansion stands, other than to say a decision has not yet been made.

--Katie Lannan, State House News Service

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