Charters, Caps and Federal Money
March 29th, 2010
Prepare for another round in the battle to raise the state charter school cap. New York State — along with 14 other finalists — found out today it would not receive grants in the first round of Race to the Top school funding. The state will almost certainly try again, with applications for the second round of funding due in June.
Charter school proponents have argued New York must dramatically raise its limit on the number of charter schools in order to get this funding from the charter-friendly Obama administration. But a look at one of this year’s winners — Tennessee — raises doubts.
The Center for Education Reform, a national pro-charter group, gives Tennessee’s charter law a D, ranking it the 27th strongest of 40 charter laws. In 2009, Tennessee raised its cap from 50 to 90 charter schools. As it did that, though, it also “included restrictions on where schools could locate and who they could serve,” according to Education Sector.
(A cap of 90 goes a lot further in Tennessee than New York. The entire state of Tennessee has fewer public school students — about 976,000 — than New York City alone.)
New York, on the other hand, gets credit for the ninth strongest law — despite its cap of 200 charters. New York outpaces Tennessee, according to the charter group, in its system for authorizing schools, in the level of autonomy it provides charter schools, and in the transparency of the budgeting process.
The other winner, Delaware, does not have a cap. Despite that the Center for Education Reform sees its charter law as weaker than New York’s, ranking it at 13th strongest. The center says that, while the law offers many opportunities to create charters, applicant are “discouraged by hostile school boards.”
In the comments on New York application, one reviewer praised the state for creating “a positive charter school environment.” Another reviewer did, however, fault the state for having a “low cap.”
In awarding the money, the federal Department of Education ranked applicants on a 500-point scale. According to Gotham Schools, New York lost points for its policies on “statewide data systems, teacher evaluations and charter schools.”
Earlier this year, Gov, David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to persuade the legislature to raise the cap on charter schools in the state from its current level of 200 to 460. The Assembly responded with a proposal to set the cap at 400 but included provisions charter advocates, including Bloomberg, considered a poison pill. Eventually the legislature took no action.
Whether raising the charter cap will make the difference this summer seems open to question. New York ranked second to the bottom among the 16 finalists (only the District of Columbia came in lower). “Besides state pride, the rankings matters because as round one of Race to the Top ends, round two begins, and states donít have a whole lot of time to improve their scores,” Newsweek’s blog The Gaggle said today.
Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein also are seeking other changes they think will bolster New York’s chances. In particular, a statement from Klein said today, they want the state to “mandate a teacher evaluation system that takes into account student achievement data, make it easier to remove ineffective teachers, and ensure that teacher layoffs are based on merit rather than seniority.”By Gail Robinson on March 29, 2010, 6:09 pm
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