New York’s charter school advocates have poured millions of dollars into electing a State Senate hospitable to their agenda items for the upcoming legislative session. Now, those leaders are beginning to craft their legislative priorities, which will include eliminating the state’s cap on charter schools, increasing funding for established charters, and establishing more accountability measures for district schools and teachers.
After a hugely successful session in 2014—at the political expense of teachers’ unions and their highest-profile champion, Bill de Blasio—pro-charter groups say they expect the Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo once again to come through for them.
“While there’s a conventional wisdom that once an issue has been dealt with in one year, folks will move on to another issue, education reform and improvement are and should be perennial issues,” said James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center.
Here's what they want:
Completely eliminating the charter cap is, as of now, the top legislative priority of charter school advocates. The cap—a limit on the number of charters that can open—has been a major issue of contention since it was first created in the state’s 1998 law creating New York’s first 100 charter schools. The cap was created in New York as a concession to teachers’ union leaders and charter skeptics in general, who have advocated a slower pace of charter growth.
It is possible that the groups’ legislative allies will try to broker a compromise whereby some upstate charter capacity will be shifted to New York City, where demand is growing most rapidly.
This might appeal to charter school advocates, beyond the raw number of slots, because it could alter the balance of power between the two entities that are empowered to authorize new charters: the State University of New York and the state Board of Regents.
The charters prefer dealing with SUNY, which at the moment has no more slots to award in the city. A reallocation of slots from upstate to downstate, and from Regents to SUNY, could change that.
Getting more money for both per-pupil tuition support and facilities funding will be another major priority for the groups.
While this year’s state budget greatly benefited some charters in New York City, providing a tuition increase and guaranteeing co-locations in traditional public schools or assistance with rental costs, the budget did not help about 40 percent of the city’s charters or the comparatively few charters upstate. The groups might seek a more comprehensive version of the changes in this year’s budget.
And just in case you think Shelly Silver and the Assembly will hold the line on the Cuomo/charter entrepreneur plan to destroy the public education system, well, they may not:
The unions’ allies in the Assembly could deliver on what the charter groups are seeking in exchange for action on some of their own education priorities. Those could include boosting Foundation Aid, a funding formula based largely on need, rather than reducing the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a formula that has distributed cuts across school districts as the state has struggled with deficits; and passing the Dream Act, a proposal that would allow undocumented immigrants access to state-sponsored college tuition assistance.
Interesting how charter supporters are pushing for more accountability measures for district schools and teachers but not themselves (APPR does not apply to charters.)
In any case, without a major mobilization of parents and teachers calling Legislators, both Assembly members and State Senators, the charter operators and Cuomo will likely get everything they want - the millions in charter supporter backer dollars they're showering on pols will ensure that.
That's why charter lobbyists spent a record amount in the last quarter lobbying - they sense End Game is here.