State Senate Votes to More Than Double Number of Charter Schools

The State Senate voted yesterday to raise the number of charter schools in the state to 460 from 200. Majority Leader John Sampson supported the legislation and, despite significant Democratic resistance, led it to a surprisingly bipartisan victory (45-15).

More than doubling the number of charter schools in the state is a move that supporters say would make New York more competitive for "Race to the Top" federal education funds (or "race to the trough" as staunch critic Senator Bill Perkins phrases it).

One common complaint directed at charter schools is an accusation that they cream the most involved students and families from traditional zoned schools, and don't take in the toughest cases. According to Gotham Schools , the senate bill would require charters "to serve at least half of the percentage of special education students and non-English speaking students that district schools enroll." Certain charter organizations, like Eva Moskowitz's Harlem Success Network (which plans on opening several new schools next year), had already taken steps to give admissions preference to English Language Learners for the upcoming year. "By passing the cap lift bill, Senator John Sampson has shown us what leadership in Albany looks like. Finally. The State Senate has done right by parents in expanding their right to choose," Moskowitz says.

Many people are not happy about raising the cap. Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, e-mails us "The bill that passed the Senate today would more than double the number of charter schools, without allowing audits by the state comptroller, without giving any voice to parents on co-locations, and without barring profit-making enterprises from making money off our kids." The debate about charter expansion brings up not just the delicate issue of co-locations, but matters of private influence in public service, and the role of organized labor in education. Charters are usually non-unionized, and are the scourge of the UFT. Gotham Schools reports "New York City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew responded to the [senate] vote by saying the bill 'has no chance of becoming law' and is a 'one-house charter bill.' "

The bill's fate now rests with the State Assembly, which the Daily News describes as "murky" since "Speaker Sheldon Silver has expressed little enthusiasm for lifting the charter-school cap." Governor Paterson has reportedly signaled that he supports such legislation.


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