Walsh rejects charter enrollment bill with his name on it

Walsh’s office complains of “added language”; Bill sponsor: “I filed exactly what his office sent me.”

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 10/18/2017, 2:26 p.m.
Mayor Martin Walsh is seeking to distance himself from a bill bearing his name that parent education activists say was ...
Unified Enrollment- Walsh Isabel Leon, Mayor’s Office

Is it about unified enrollment?

The letter attributed to Weinstein states that the bill does not advance or in any way connect to unified enrollment.

“The bill referenced, H. 2876, has nothing to do with unifying enrollment for district and charter schools,” the letter says. “The legislation proposed three options for how charter schools could amend their enrollment processes — none of which place district and charter schools into the same system.”

However, some parent activists say the bill sets the stage for such a change. Enacting unified enrollment, in which the enrollment system for charter schools is blended with that of district schools, requires a change in state law to allow charter schools to have one common lottery, instead of individual ones for each school. The final paragraph of H. 2876 would make this change. Walsh neither referred to nor denied association with this provision.

The portion of the bill that Walsh explicitly supports in his Oct. 3 letter allows willing charter schools to adopt a local geographic enrollment preference suggestive of the home-based model used by Boston Public Schools. This may not be necessary for a Boston unified enrollment system, but facilitates smoother integration.

The third aspect of the bill allows charter schools to choose to automatically enter all eligible students into their enrollment lotteries, without the students choosing to submit applications. Students selected through the enrollment lottery could choose not to attend. Any students who did not wish to be included in the lottery would have to actively opt out. Walsh’s spokesperson now says he opposes this opt-out, automatic enrollment lottery system.

Cons, pros, public comments

The parent activist group Quality Education for Every Student (QUEST) issued a report last month outlining concerns over unified enrollment. One concern is that such a policy may restrict school choice. Giving charter schools slots on a family’s list of school options could displace some district school options, unless lists are lengthened. And switching charters from citywide enrollment to local enrollment would mean that access depends on where a student lives, removing that charter school as an option for students who live farther away. Other concerns are that unified enrollment may not necessarily be accompanied by reforms to ensure charter schools also educate the same proportion of students with higher needs. Because such students traditionally perform less well on standardized tests, if district schools end up serving greater shares of that population while charters siphon off better-scoring students, this would disadvantage district schools’ test scores compared to charters and thus jeopardize their school rankings.

At present, such concerns linger because there was no robust public debate in Boston prior to the legislation’s filing and because the four-page bill does not provide answers to them.

Despite this, the public still can weigh in. According to Peisch, who is the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Education, members of the public may submit comments and concerns to the committee by email until the legislators make their final decision on the bill, which could happen anytime between now and the final decision deadline in February 2018. Most bills will not receive decisions until December or January, she said.