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Bid For Compromise On Charter School Cap Draws Fire

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WBZ-TV's Jon Keller Jon Keller
Jon Keller is WBZ-TV News' Political Analyst, and his "Keller A...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Charter schools are becoming more popular. But they’re also controversial. Opponents say one concern is money, specifically, the amount diverted to a charter school when a student leaves a conventional school to enroll.

Worcester is giving charter schools more than $21 million; Lawrence more than $13 million; Boston more than $87 million. Beacon Hill’s failure to cover those financial losses has pitted parent against parent.

Like thousands of others statewide, Rafik Chaib and his wife have had their son on a charter school waiting list for years now, but his lucky number has not come up. “I have a neighbor who has a son in a charter school,” Chaib told WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller. “They call the house to find out how is he doing, is there anything they can do. But we don’t hear anything like this when it comes to the public school.”

“The parents and students in my district deserve something now, they can’t wait, you can’t have it so they wait while we improve schools,” says Rep. Russell Holmes (D-Boston).

But the compromise offered by Holmes and Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Boston) would offer only modest relief from the current cap on charter school seats, and make it contingent on conventional schools being fully reimbursed for students who leave to attend charters, a funding level that hasn’t been forthcoming from Beacon Hill.

Charter school advocate Jon Clark hates the idea. “It sells our parents down the river, and it sells the parents of all the families on the waiting list down the river,” Clark said. “We hope it doesn’t come out that way.”

Karen Kast-McBride, of Massachusetts Families and Student, also opposes lifting the cap. “Our legislators need to know that until we address the inequities, we can’t possibly be siphoning more money from any of our public education districts,” Kast-McBride said.

It’s a schism indicative of how polarized education reform has become.

“What has happened now is we are at war, charters against public, and at the end of the day children are losing ,” Boston public school parent Mariama White-Hammond said.

Sen. Chang-Diaz and Rep. Holmes are trying to find middle ground, but after years of bitter resistance to charters by teacher unions and their allies, and growing suspicion of corporate involvement in charters, nerves are frayed, and the politics of the debate are nastier than ever.

With a legislative deadline looming, it’s entirely possible the bill will stall, leaving the Chaibs and other parents to continue their frustrating wait.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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