Boston Charters See Record Applications after State Blocks New Schools

by Paul Crookston

Massachusetts may have voted down Ballot Question 2, which, had it passed, would have raised the cap on the number of charter schools permitted in the state, but all is not lost. Indeed, the Boston Globe reports that the debate raised awareness about the state’s overwhelmingly successful charters, and, in consequence, applications have increased by more than two fold.

On Wednesday of this week, most Boston charters will be holding their lotteries, in which a huge pool of applicants will vie for spots in an artificially limited selection of schools — a supply problem created by the fact that the charter cap hasn’t been raised in seven years. The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association reports that the total number of applications for 16 Boston charters has surged to 35,000 from 13,000 last year, facilitated by a new online process that allows easy application to multiple schools at once. Both the increase in applicants for more than one charter and an increased number of total applicants show that the headline-grabbing ballot initiative to open more charters managed to raise interest in them, even though it failed to raise their legislated limit. That limit restricts 35,000 applications to a paltry 2,100 available seats.

The Boston Teachers Union is already denying that there are so many applications, with a spokesman saying “They have inflated other numbers in the past.” However, previous charges of wait-list “inflation” referred to state-generated figures, which the unions had little evidence for disputing. The accusation that the charter school association would lie about these new numbers also requires evidence, but the union hasn’t offered any.

This application increase should come as no surprise. Supporters of Ballot Question 2 saw disappointing results in Boston on election night, but facts about the city’s charters reached more residents’ ears — a powerful thing for families interested in change. Similar patterns occur with gun sales, which frequently rise when gun control measures are proposed.

With charters facing increased scrutiny regarding accountability and general standards, it is remarkable that the state with perhaps the most undeniably transformative charters would reject their expansion. Nevertheless, the cap remains, and it will do nothing to help the children who face long odds to win a seat — a prized possession for the happy few who see their names come out of the hat.

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