Commence the charter school bill watch

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 30, 2016….All eyes Thursday will be on Sen. Karen Spilka’s Ways and Means Committee after members met late Thursday afternoon to review draft charter school legislation that could move through the committee at any time.

Amid rampant speculation on Wednesday about the timing and substance of the charter school proposal, the working group assembled by Senate President Stanley Rosenberg in January to try forge a compromise between supporters and critics of charters in the Senate inched closer to releasing a final product.

The meeting in Spilka’s office was intended to brief both Democrats and Republicans on the committee about the direction the group, led by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, was taking. Though no vote was taken, several members leaving the office suggested a Thursday morning poll remained a possibility.

“When we get a bill, we’ll let you guys know,” Chang-Diaz said upon exiting the meeting.

Rosenberg dropped by the meeting already underway to say hello to the members, staying for about 10 minutes. He said he had already been briefed on the substance of the proposal, but declined to comment on the details. Depending on how the meeting went, Rosenberg said it was possible the Senate could take up an order on Thursday during its formal session to schedule a time for the full Senate to consider the charter school bill.

Sen. James Timilty refused to acknowledge the presence of a reporter trying to get his attention as he walked by after exiting the meeting, while other senators politely declined to discuss the details of the legislation and referred questions about timing to Spilka.

After the Senate in 2014 voted down legislation to expand the cap on charter school enrollment, House leaders last year said they would not try to pass a charter school bill again unless the Senate showed it had the votes to go along.

Rosenberg held a series of private meetings and briefings with members last year before announcing in January that he would try to write a bill that could pass the Senate in order to avert what is shaping up to be a costly and divisive ballot campaign to authorize up to 12 new charter schools annually outside the cap.

The details in this bill, however, will be particularly important with the coalition behind the ballot initiative threatening to proceed if they are unsatisfied with a legislative compromise. The working group has been looking at not just the cap but also the system by which the state finances charter schools and the admission and student retention policies at those institutions.

In non-charter school news, Gov. Charlie Baker will be speaking at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council annual meeting at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge and at Prostate Cancer Awareness Day at the State House on Thursday.

A day after the House approved $200 million for local road and bridge repairs, the House Bonding Committee chaired by Rep. Antonio Cabral will hear testimony on the remaining sections of Baker’s Chapter 90 bill, including one that proposes a new five-year, $50 million program to fix small, municipal bridges.

The Senate is in no rush to take up the $200 million in Chapter 90 funding for cities and towns, and does not plan to follow the House with a vote of its own on Thursday. Instead, the Senate will be considering S 2190 to further define standards of employee safety; S 2191 establishing the MassMade Program; H 3971 relative to survivor pension benefits and qualified domestic relations orders; and H 4022 relative to home improvement contractor registration.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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