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Eye On Education: Emotional Debate Over Charter Schools In Massachusetts

MALDEN (CBS) -- With the demand increasing each year, Massachusetts officials are trying to create more opportunities for students to attend charter schools like Mystic Valley Regional in Malden.

"I feel very prepared for college and just for life in general," said Victoria Mail, a senior at Mystic Valley Regional Charter School.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School
Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden. (WBZ-TV)

Many students at Mystic Valley have been in this charter school system since kindergarten, chosen in the annual lottery.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School Students

"You walk down the hallway and everyone is a familiar face," said Chris Vu, a freshman at the charter school.

"It's not a matter of picking and choosing who comes here. It's doing well with the students who you have. And I think that's what we do extremely well," says School Director Martin Trice.

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School

The wait list at Mystic Valley is 3,600 students deep and it's the longest in the state. Why is the list so long?

"It's simple: We're one of the best schools in the Commonwealth and one of the best in country," Trice said.

Nearly every graduating senior will go on to a two- or four-year college. Trice credits hard work and the school's ability to make instant changes if needed.

"We're free from some of the constraints that exist in some of the traditional settings," says Trice.

At Mystic Valley there is no teacher union. The school day is longer at 7 1/2 hours and the school year stretches to 200 days compared to the traditional 180.

"It isn't right that only a fraction of families who desire this type of public education at succeeding have an opportunity for it. It's wrong," said Trice.

And that's why there's a push to create more charter schools in the state. Out of the nearly one million public school students in Massachusetts, about 40,000 get into a charter school, around 4 percent.

To increase that access, Gov. Charlie Baker wants to raise the cap on charter schools by 12 new or expanded charter each year.

Lawmakers are currently drafting a bill to expand charters and if they don't vote this spring, the issue will head to a statewide vote in November.

"I think when you talk about lifting the cap there is always an impact upon the public school system," says Malden School Superintendent David DeRuosi.

Malden School Superintendent David DeRuosi

And one immediate effect on the traditional school system is money.

In Malden the cost per student is $13,500. That state funding follows the child to either the charter or the traditional public school. This year, the district paid out more than $9 million in charter school tuition. The state has reimbursed Malden a little over one million.

DeRuosi told WBZ when they lose that money, they still have to maintain buildings, transportation, teaching staff, and serve the other 6,800 students in the district.

"If one child from each one of our classrooms leaves to go to the charter school...I don't recoup that by maybe closing two fifth grade classrooms because I still have to run two fifth grade classrooms. I only lost one student per classroom," he said.

Malden's traditional public school system educates more than four times the number of students than the charter and that includes more kids with special needs and students up the age of 22, if needed.

Mystic Valley only allows students to be accepted in kindergarten through the sixth grade.

"Parents have the right to choose but we're doing some great work here you should really want to stay with us and choose us," said DeRuosi.

Eighty percent of Malden High School graduates go on to a two- or four-year college.

Malden High School

WBZ also spoke with students who transferred out of the charter system, choosing instead to attend Malden High.

"Charter schools are better academically, but public schools are better socially," says sophomore Kylie DiMaro.

Junior Gabriel Oliveria says it's all about what you put into your own education.

"It's my responsibility to do well here," he said. "I can do just as well as I was doing at the charter school as I can do here."

For more information, visit the Department of Education's Massachusetts Charter Schools website, Great Schools in Massachusetts website, Massachusetts Charter Public School Association website, Citizens for Public Schools website, and the Save Our Public Schools in Massachusetts website.

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