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Walsh criticizes state charter school funding process

Mayor Martin J. Walsh on Tuesday said the state’s mechanism for funding charter schools was “broken,” in one of his most critical comments to date on the controversial system.

Echoing his testimony Monday before state legislators, Walsh said in a speech to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau that a proposed ballot measure that would increase the state’s limit on charter schools offers no solution to financing issues and other concerns.

“If rejected, [the ballot measure] leaves us on the unsustainable path we are on,” Walsh said, according to his prepared remarks. “And if passed, it would make things dramatically worse.”

The state’s charter school funding process calls for districts to be reimbursed for 100 percent of the funds lost to charter tuition in the first year that students leave the district and for 25 percent for the next five years.

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But in recent years the state has not fully funded the process, and some funding has been provided through supplemental allocations that school leaders say come too late for local budgets.

Walsh, an avowed charter school supporter, said in a phone interview Tuesday that he is increasingly frustrated with the current system.

“The status quo is not good enough for our kids,” he said. “In some of our schools, some of our kids are getting a great education, and in some of our schools . . . they’re not getting the top-quality education.”

Walsh’s speech came amid a tug-of-war over the city’s $1 billion school budget proposal for the next academic year.

Last month, more than 200 protesters marched on City Hall to demand that Walsh fully fund public schools. And on Monday, about 3,650 students across Boston walked out of class to protest budget cuts, according to School Department figures.

Walsh said the school budget is not suffering for dollars lost to charter schools, but other city departments are, as his administration makes education a top priority.

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The district must make difficult decisions, he said, and find ways to save administrative costs and direct as much money as possible into classrooms.

“It can’t just be done in one budget cycle, so that’s why we’re looking at it over a period of time,” he said.

The mayor reiterated in the interview his support for a proposal by Governor Charlie Baker to overhaul the state’s charter school reimbursement program. Baker’s plan would halve the number of years that districts are reimbursed for money shifted to charter school enrollment but double from 25 percent to 50 percent the reimbursement amount in year two.

Walsh hopes eventually to persuade legislators to shift the burden of initial charter school expenses to the state, which authorizes the publicly funded, independently run schools.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.