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Charter foes try a new tack

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Opponents of charters schools, who have long complained about funds being lost to district schools when students enroll in charters, have opened a new front in the war they’ve been waging ever since charters were first authorized in the state’s landmark 1993 education reform. The new objection: the state-based approval process for granting charters. Opponents rallied at a State House hearing last month on behalf of bills that would require any new charter school to obtain local approval, either from a district school committee or via voter referendum.

State House News Service reported that Brookline state Rep. Frank Smizik, the sponsor of one of the bills, said at the Oct. 18 hearing, “we must be sure decisions affecting local education and our school system stem from a democratic process." It sounds like a worthy enough sentiment, but the move is, in fact, nothing more than a effort to stop the growth of charter schools dead in its tracks. School committees are hardly likely to embrace the addition of new charters, public schools that operate independently of local districts and compete with them for funding and students. What’s more, the superior student achievement outcomes of many urban charter schools, compared with local district schools, can raise unwelcome questions about practices and policies of district systems that may be holding students back.

A Lowell Sun editorial yesterday didn’t exactly mince words in blistering the latest salvo against  against charters. “Why is it that liberal Democrats, some of whom send their children to private schools, are opposed to giving school choice to other parents who aren't as well off economically?” said the editorial. “The hypocrisy has come to a head in the state Legislature, where once again a group of elitist Democrats are carrying the special-interest water pails for teachers' unions and their allies, local school committees and superintendents who fear competition from the state's growing number of successful public charter schools.

Smizik, a Brookline Democrat whose wife is a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, would seem to be one of the pols the paper has in mind.

Notwithstanding the political shenanigans the Patrick administration introduced into the recent approval of a Gloucester charter school, the state-based charter approval law has, on the whole, been praised nationally as one of the more rigorous and thorough systems used in any state. The performance of Massachusetts charters, especially those in urban areas, which outpace their district-school counterparts by wide margins, has been the positive yield.

The pertinent question for the “cocktail liberals” the Sun criticizes may be this: If they lived in places like Lawrence and Springfield, would they welcome charter school options for their children or would they be willing to be settle for whatever school the district offers in these systems where abysmal school performance, sadly, has been less the exception than the rule?

                                                                                                                                               --MICHAEL JONAS



BEACON HILL

The MetroWest Daily News likes Rep. Dan Winslow’s proposal which would force the utilities to issue refunds for outages longer than eight hours.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Boston Red Sox have been raking in millions in added concession sales while paying the city of Boston peanuts (where are the Cracker Jacks?) for rights to lease Yawkey Way as a huge outdoor vendor concourse during games, the Globe reports.

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments tomorrow in a case brought by Boston police officers, which could put cities and towns on the hook for millions of dollars in so-called Quinn Bill salary payments that the state stopped paying two years because of the budget crisis.

Boston voters are pondering who “John” is. His signature is at the bottom of an endorsement mailing for once and hopeful future city councilor Michael Flaherty. One thing we do know: It’s not Councilor John Connolly, who, with the other three incumbents, has formed an informal slate. Via Universal Hub.

Public housing tenants in Chelsea say they were sometimes told there were no funds available to make needed repairs in their apartments, even as the housing authority’s director was taking home $360,000 a year.  

A committee responsible for overseeing the construction of a proposed $101 million high school in Marshfield ay have violated campaign finance law by using taxpayer money for a mailing about the school and the override vote needed to make it happen.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The 1 percent are still doing quite well, thank you very much, which is a problem for them and President Obama.  Meanwhile, Bill Clinton writes a book about the economy, which some speculate is aimed at one particular person living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Slate says Republicans are bluffing on their no-new-taxes supercommittee ultimatum.

ELECTION 2012

US Rep. Paul Ryan has high praise for Mitt Romney’s plan to rein in Medicare spending. Meanwhile, the Weekly Standard says Romney is morphing into the kind of candidate Tea Partiers can embrace, if not love.

Ross Kaminsky at the American Spectator says while Newt Gingrich may have hit his presidential glass ceiling, he’s probably the best of the bunch for a vice presidential nominee. Gingrich and Herman Cain audition for a right-wing buddy movie.

Mitt Romney seems to be the best option for the GOP, but some people still aren’t excited about the prospect.  One group that is apparently excited about him, reports the Globe, is women, among whom Romney is enjoying an edge that he never saw in his 2008 presidential run or 2002 campaign for governor. Romney’s relentless travel, and his PAC largess, are being rewarded with a mountain of party functionary endorsements -- more than a thousand, and climbing every day.

Ron Paul wonders why the media are ignoring him despite a recent round of straw poll wins.

New York Times statistical guru Nate Silver crunches a whole bunch of numbers and finds President Obama a light underdog against Republican Challenger TBD. Of the last eight presidents, only Jimmy Carter faced a tougher environment in which to wage a reelection campaign, Silver says.

Herman Cain, phony celebrity populist, is “a symptom rather than a cause of our new politics,” writes Michael Signer in The New Republic.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Coast Guard cited a New Bedford-based scallop boat for having a hidden compartment, the second vessel in the last few months to be hit with the violation as inspection increase to ensure compliance with catch limits.

US News & World Report has a story about how the housing crisis has radically reshaped people’s retirement plans. CommonWealth’s special issue on the American Dream has a similar look at how retirement has been altered, perhaps forever.

Waltham-based A123 Systems, the heavily subsidized maker of rechargeable  batteries for electric cars, lowered its full-year revenue outlook, the Lowell Sun reports.

The Wall Street Journal launches a week-long look at the young and the unemployed.

EDUCATION

There is high turnover among school superintendents in the state: most last about four years.

Charles Chieppo doesn’t see how the UMass School of Law can raise its academic performance, expand its enrollment, and sustain itself on below-market tuition rates.

HEALTH CARE

WBUR’s CommonHealth blog reports on the strange shortage of ADHD drugs.

New brain research helps explain why it’s hard to resist that extra dessert you know you don’t need -- and how you can train yourself to have more will power.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Advocates for the poor say the drastic reduction in fuel assistance could be catastrophic for the elderly and young children, pointing out the maximum season benefit for oil is insufficient for a full tank while gas and electric caps will barely cover bills through mid-December.

Western Massachusetts Electric says restoration of power is “essentially complete,” which will be news to the 500 Springfield residents who still don’t have power.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In the second installment of its Spotlight series on lenient treatment by judges of drunken driving defendants, the Globe on Sunday zeroed in on Plymouth County, calling it a “judicial haven for accused drunk drivers.”

MEDIA

Andy Rooney, the curmudgeonly commentator of 60 Minutes, is dead at 92. Here’s Time’s remembrance.

ProPublica develops a new form of explanatory journalism, “The Redistricting Song.”

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