New York City's charter schools are getting a windfall increase of 9% in funding this year, even as city public schools are forced to cope with cuts of more than 4%.
The unexpected hike for charters - from $12,443 a child to $13,527 - is the result of a legislative screw-up that Albany lawmakers failed to address before they went out of session last month.
The hike affects the entire state. That means urban districts, where most charters are located, are being forced to redirect scarce dollars they had earmarked for traditional public schools.
The city's Department of Education, for example, will need to shift more than $32 million from regular school programs to charter reimbursements.
For a typical charter school with 300 students, the increase will mean an extra $325,000.
For the first time, city charter schools - at least those that share space in public school buildings - could get more total funding per pupil from the DOE than regular public schools.
The legislative snafu was touched off in July, when former Gov. David Paterson vetoed an education spending bill that had passed the Assembly and Senate. The original bill continued a freeze on charter reimbursements, which the Legislature imposed the previous year as part of an overall public education freeze.
When Paterson struck down the spending bill, he also inadvertently lifted the charter freeze. Several months later, when the governor and the Legislature agreed on a new spending bill, they failed to restore it.
As late as December, Paterson tried to fix the problem but could not get the Senate, then under Democratic control, to agree.
Charter school lobbyists were working fiercely behind the scenes to make sure the governor didn't succeed. They believe state funding has been unfair to charters for years.
"Right now, we are on a two-year lag in our funding," said Kerri Lyon, of the New York City Charter Schools Center. "This increase only represents what public schools got in 2008-2009."
Of course, when charters were launched more than a decade ago, advocates promised they would do more with less and tap new sources of private and foundation funding.
One thing is clear, few school administrators in the state - even the unabashed charter advocates at DOE - expected the freeze to be lifted in the middle of a budget crisis.
"[We\} now owe our charter schools more money than we have to give," said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld.
Until now, the DOE has not uttered a word of public protest about the Legislature's action. When Bloomberg officials provided a budget update to City Council in November, for instance, they never mentioned the new $32 million bill the state was forcing them to pay.
The DOE "absolutely oppose[s] instituting a freeze on charter school funding," Zarin-Rosenfeld said. The agency would prefer that the state simply provide additional aid to pay the higher mandated fee.
Thanks to Albany's failure to act, charter schools get more, and regular public schools get less.
Where's Cuomo yelling about this increase in spending?
Where's Bloomberg yelling about it?
Oh, right - they're both on the charter bandwagon.