Rep. Antonio Cabral and Mayor Jon Mitchell of New Bedford testify before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education on April 9.

A panel of city and town officials testified before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education on April 9 in support of a bill that would cap charter school assessments on municipalities and school districts.

The local officials argued that the bill (H. 418) would substantially reduce local assessments statewide and bring a measure of transparency and accountability to charter school finances.

Charter school assessments are expected to total nearly $720 million statewide next year, an increase of $56 million (8 percent), according to preliminary Cherry Sheets for fiscal 2020. The preliminary numbers show that as many as 80 municipalities and school districts would face a net cut in school aid next year because of the way that charter schools are funded – through off-budget assessments. Payments to charter schools are not subject to appropriation at either the state or local level.

The MMA-drafted bill, filed jointly by Rep. Antonio Cabral of New Bedford and Rep. Paul Brodeur of Melrose, would link charter school finance to the state’s main program for funding public education. It would cap charter school assessments at the statewide average required local contribution that cities and towns pay to local public schools under the Chapter 70 school finance law. It would also cap assessments on cities and towns that appropriate more for local schools than the minimum required amount.

The MMA plan would limit the impact on municipal and school budgets, while allowing full payments to charter schools, subject to state appropriation.

At the hearing, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell told the committee that his city’s “push to improve its schools has been hamstrung by the state’s charter school funding mechanism, and continues to be.” The city has “struggled to direct scarce resources to its most urgent education priorities, including services for English language learners, student counseling and wrap-around services, curriculum upgrades, and special education.”

New Bedford’s net charter school assessments have nearly tripled over the past seven years, from $4.6 million in fiscal 2012 to $13.6 million in fiscal 2019.

Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz testified that his city would face a net school aid cut next year under the governor’s state budget recommendation, with the growth in net charter school assessments outpacing the increase in Chapter 70 school aid by about a quarter of a million dollars.

He said net charter school assessments in his city have grown from $1.2 million 10 years ago to an estimated $2.7 million for next year. House 418 would reduce assessments by more than $500,000 and help the city meet the needs of students and staff, he said.

Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday and Sandwich Town Manager George “Bud” Dunham shared similar testimony, stating that charter school assessments are crowding out investments in local public schools and would result in net school aid cuts in fiscal 2020.

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