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Charter school proponents and opponents are digging in over expansion in Lynn

LYNN — Tension over charter schools is reaching a boiling point.

With the Equity Lab Charter School applying to be the city’s second charter school, and the KIPP Academy Lynn Charter School seeking to expand, battle lines over the controversial schools have been drawn.

Supporters and opponents of expanding the city’s charter schools packed a hearing last week to make their case to state education officials.

Authorized by the Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools are independent public schools. They are controversial because when a student from a district attends a charter school in that community, the per pupil cost follows the child to the charter school.

Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members attended the Thursday hearing and listened to charter proponents, including Equity Lab founder Frank DeVito, who has said he is confident the state will approve its plan to open a grade 5-12 school, which would start with 160 fifth- and sixth-graders, and eventually have 640 students.

So far, DeVito said, there’s a waiting list of more than 150 families interested in enrolling in the prospective school.

Half of the attendees who gathered in the Lynn Housing Authority and Community Development meeting room were Lynn Teachers Union (LTU) members who oppose the move for more charter school seats in the city.

LTU President Sheila O’Neil addressed state officials on behalf of 50 union teachers who attended the hearing and said the city’s schools do excellent work on a slim budget with as many as 30 students per classroom.

She said Equity’s application, which has been rejected previously by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, does not appear to be improved.

DeVito is a member of Waltham-based Education Development Center’s National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools team, where he develops, implements and tests new ways to boost effective practices in high schools.

Caleb Dolan, KIPP’s executive director, said the school, which has been in Lynn since 2005, is seeking to grow the number of students it serves in its K-12 classrooms. Today, the school houses more than 1,300 children. He said KIPP Academy has a waiting list of more than 1,300 Lynn families.

“With a proven track record of success, and an overwhelming demand by parents, we see it is our obligation to grow and offer this public school option to more students in Lynn,” he said.

O’Neil disagreed and said KIPP accepts far fewer special education and limited English speakers than Lynn Public Schools and as a result creates a funding inequity.

“An affirmative vote for expansion of charter schools in Lynn is a vote for educational injustice,” she said.

But Starann Butler, a KIPP parent who has a child on KIPP’s waiting list, said charter schools provide options that work for her family.

“It is frustrating to be denied access to an outstanding school that would provide my daughter with a great education,” she said. “I hope the state board members not only listen to our pleas, but truly hear our pleas. My child only has one shot at her education.”

The board is expected to make its decision next February.

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