Charter school expansion in New York is facing a tough fight
Gov. Cathy Hochul’s proposal to allow dozens of new charter schools to open in New York City has set the stage for a fierce battle over the future of the city’s school system in the coming months.
The governor’s proposal leaves open the possibility that the charter sector could increase its penetration of the nation’s largest school system. But Charters, which has always faced fierce opposition from teachers unions and left-leaning Democrats, faces a turbulent road ahead, as the city’s public school system follows the loss of thousands of students and few dollars. In New York City, ongoing tussles over the sharing of school campuses with charters may further fuel the debate.
It is unclear whether Ms. Hochul, who has not pushed for education issues since taking office in 2021, will prioritize charters during budget negotiations, in which she and state legislators will discuss other hot-button issues, including New York’s bail laws. Will struggle with issues.
Still, leaders of some of the city’s largest charter school networks said Ms. Hochul’s endorsement made them optimistic.
“What we’re trying to do is make common sense,” the governor said after his state budget presentation on Wednesday.
More than 180,000 children across the state attend charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, and New York City is home to the majority of them. But unlike some of the country’s other large school districts, local growth is relatively restricted: Charters educate about 14 percent of local public school children, a lower percentage than cities like Philadelphia where charter schools serve about one in three students or Washington. Let’s enroll. DC, where they educate about 50 percent of the students.
Nationally, charters are on the rise, and in New York City, even as district schools and private institutions have lost students, charters have gained them, largely because many schools are still adding new grades. Huh. But some established networks are struggling to fill seats, and some have seen enrollment declines.
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Under the limit set by the State Legislature, not more than 460 charter licenses can be issued in the entire State. New York City also has its own cap on the number of charters, which was reached more than three years ago.
The governor’s proposal would eliminate the separate city limit, and allow charter operators to apply for more than 80 licenses that are still available statewide. Under Ms. Hochul’s plan, permits for charter schools that have closed, known as “zombie licenses,” would also be reissued. (Currently, there are about two dozen so-called zombie charters.)
Charter schools generally receive less public funding than district schools, and Ms. Hochul also proposed increasing per-pupil funding for charters by 4.5 percent.
Claudia Espinosa, founder of a local nonprofit that mentors Latina girls, told a Bronx rally in support of charters this week that she dreams of opening a charter school to reach more kids. “But it’s not likely at the moment,” Ms Espinosa said.
“We don’t want barriers in their way – they already have enough. We need to give them the freedom to choose the kind of education they want to get.”
The governor’s proposed changes could dramatically alter the educational landscape in some corners of New York, where enrollment losses in district schools have prompted cuts in staff and school programs. Still, it’s unclear whether the governor’s plan could garner enough support among Democrats in the state legislature, many of whom denounced the proposals.
In a joint statement, three downstate senators, including John Liu, chairman of the New York City Education Committee, said they were “deeply troubled” by the plan, because they said it could deplete district schools’ resources.
In Buffalo, the governor’s hometown, where charters educate one in four children, the city’s school board has also raised concerns that too many schools are competing for too few students. Many other US cities have faced a period of school closures as competition for students increases.
Charter leaders argue that lifting the ban would give Black and Latino families more opportunities to have their children and respond to unmet demand in some areas. Jane Martinez Dowling, a longtime executive at KIPP, the nation’s largest charter network, said in a statement that the proposed changes will “empower more students to access the excellent education they deserve.”
Governor Hochul’s plan represented his clearest public support for charter schools to date. His predecessor, Andrew M. Cuomo, vocally supported the movement, standing with families at rallies in Albany and clashing with the state’s powerful teachers’ unions.
Ms. Hochul’s campaign was supported by several charter promoters, including billionaire investor Daniel Loeb. But he was also endorsed by the state teachers’ union in the Democratic primary, the first time the union had endorsed a candidate for governor since 2006. On Wednesday, union president Andrew Pallotta said he had “serious concerns” over the proposals.
Since Democrats seized control of the state Senate in 2018, efforts to change state charter laws have been largely blocked in budget negotiations.
Ms. Hochul named several other education issues as priorities in her budget plan, including raising tuition at the state’s public colleges, and “for the first time in history” funding to the level required by state law, Including a $2.7 billion increase in foundation aid. , (A lawsuit brought by parents to force the state to provide more money was settled after Ms. Hochul agreed to the increase.)
The funding increase drew praise from education advocates, but it was largely overshadowed by a mix of enthusiasm and dismay over the governor’s charter school proposal. His plan may add additional fuel to the disputes, especially over space.
In New York City, the Department of Education is required to provide either space or rental assistance for charter schools. Many schools share buildings across the city without issue and charters comprise roughly a tenth of those arrangements. But fights over space sometimes turn ugly, and education experts expect them to be more favorable to charters under the mayor’s administration and require city schools to reduce their class sizes, allowing them to Students may need to be spread out over more classes.
In recent months, the Panel for Educational Policy, the governing body for the city’s public schools, voted down several plans to relocate charter schools run by Success Academy to district buildings in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
In the lead up to the decision, protests broke out on several school campuses. Hundreds of high school students in Springfield Gardens walked out of class in December over a resolution. At another rally in the Bronx, the Speaker of the State Assembly, Carl E. Hastie, joined families arguing against a proposal to move Success Academy School to the district campus.
In public meetings, several charter students urged school officials to allow them to share district buildings, arguing that they were entitled to the same opportunities as other children.
Several plans were eventually approved, but school officials scrapped three other plans last month. Eva Moskovitz, founder of Success Academy, said she did not know the plans would be canceled until reading the news, and said she was waiting for the authorities to “right the wrong that has been done”.
Ms. Moskovitz called the governor’s budget announcement a “moment of children coming before politics.” But she added: “Now of course, proposing something – and having it enacted – are two different things.”
Some Democrats, including Michael Benedetto, the Bronx Democrat who chairs the state Legislature’s education committee, have argued that more fundamental changes are needed in the area before party members can consider expanding charter schools, including seeking funding. Contains stringent requirements for. non-governmental sources.
“The conference as a whole wants answers to a lot of these questions,” he said this fall. “If Charters wanted to expand, I’d certainly like to see them on the playing field.”