More charter school seats are coming to Boston and other communities across the state, education officials announced Monday, setting the stage for an intense competition for the openings.
The fiercest competition is expected to be in Boston, where seven charter schools have submitted expansion proposals that would collectively add spots for 800 students, beginning in fall 2017. But the state can only award about 225 seats before it reaches its cap, meaning some charter schools will come away empty-handed.
Beyond Boston, five other charter schools have submitted expansion proposals, while six other applicants are seeking to open new charter schools — all outside of Boston.
The state Education Department will decide by mid-September which applicants can submit final proposals, then determine if they meet the criteria for approval. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote on the recommended proposals in February.
Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner for elementary and secondary education, said in a statement he was pleased by the number of schools showing interest in adding students.
The agency will consider the proposals amid a heated campaign for a ballot measure that would accelerate the growth of charter schools in the state's lowest performing school districts. In many of those communities, a state-imposed cap has halted or slowed the opening of new charter schools, proponents of the measure say.
Marc Kenen, executive director for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, said more charter schools in Boston would have applied for expansions this year if a greater number of seats were available.
"This shows the urgent need to lift the cap," Kenen said. "We could easily add about 5,000 seats within the next two years."
But critics of the ballot measure say traditional public schools cannot afford any more financial losses from charter school expansion. Under state law, students who attend charter schools take with them thousands of dollars in state aid from their local districts.
"Even under the current system, public school districts are hurting," said Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, an advocacy group in Boston. "They are losing $400 million a year to charter schools at a time when the [state's] Foundation Budget Review Commission has found that public schools are already being underfunded by $1 billion a year."
For a limited time, school systems receive some state reimbursement to help offset the reduced aid.
The Boston charter schools seeking to expand are Boston Preparatory Charter School, Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy Charter School, KIPP Academy Boston Public Charter School, Boston Collegiate Charter School, Bridge Boston Charter School, City on a Hill Charter Public School Dudley Square, and City on a Hill Charter Public School Circuit Street.
The charter schools looking to add enrollment are Foxborough Regional Charter School, Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, Veritas Prep Charter School in Springfield, Alma del Mar Charter School in New Bedford, and Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis.
The proposals for new charter schools are Collegiate Charter School of Pioneer Valley, which would serve 870 K-12 students from Chicopee and Springfield and open in fall 2018; Equity Lab Charter School in Lynn, serving 640 students in grades 5-12, fall 2017; MAP Academy Charter School, serving 250 students between the ages of 15 and 23 from Plymouth, Wareham, and Carver, fall 2017; Old Sturbridge Academy Charter Public School, serving 360 K-8 students in the greater Sturbridge area, fall 2017; The Entrepreneurial Village, a Commonwealth charter school, serving 360 K-5 students from Brockton, Stoughton, and Avon, fall 2018.
Hampden Charter School in the Holyoke area is also looking to add another school.