Parsing the Charter School Deal
June 1st, 2010

The state education department is now rushing to complete its application for Race to the Top money. At least partly to bolster that application the legislature on Friday raised the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state.

The legislation, the product of lengthy negotiations involving the Bloomberg administration, the teachers union, various state education officials and others, will certainly increase the number of charter schools in the state and the city over the next four years.

What else will it do?

Depends who you ask?

Some answers after the jump.

First off, will it boost the chances of the state getting some $700 million in federal funds? The News, the Post and the Bloomberg administration would all have you believe so, And certainly it cannot hurt. Neither can a measure to link teacher evaluation to test scores that also passed.

But 34 states are applying for the money and, according to the Wall Street Journal, 23 have changed their laws in an effort to boost their chances for some of the $4.35 billion in federal money.

In the first round of Race to the Top, New York was one of 16 finalists but then not only did not win but also came in second to last among the 16. Charter school limits and teacher evaluations contributed to that, but other factors, such as statewide data systems, came into play as well.

Of course, most of those pushing for the increase in charters would have wanted them regardless. And most of them hailed the legislature’s action Friday. Calling it a “major victory,” city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement, “Lifting the charter cap will allow us to create more great schools and bring New York one step closer to $700 million in Race to the Top funds.”

And the Post — in an editorial it for some reason labeled “The War on Charters — crowed, “This means that thousands more kids now have a fair shot at a real education — making them the real winners in a process that has dragged on for months.” (We do sometime wonder why the Post tirelessly champions Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s control of the school if, after more than eight years, the mayor still cannot give kids “a real education.”)

The bill does put some additional controls on publicly funded, privately operated charters. These include not allowing any new charters to be for-profit; and letting the state comptroller audit charters; requiring charters to have ” comparable” numbers of high needs students as tradition schools.

What effect those changes might have also remains unclear. This may explain the apparent change of heart (noted by Edwize) by two charter school advocates. As the legislature acted, Nelson Smith of the National Alliance for public Charter School complained that instead of simply lifting the cap, as he had hoped they would, the legislature “puts serious brakes on New York City growth; invites intrusive and redundant audits by the state comptroller; forbids for-profit operators (no matter their track record) from managing any new schools; and adds a patchwork of new provisions, grounded in specious, union-provided non-data, requiring charter schools to resemble the demographics of surrounding districts.”

By Saturday though, Smith had decided, “The final deal looks better than I let on yesterday.”

Peter Murphy of the New York State Charter School Association, who initially denounced the bill, later weighed in in support but added, that it presented “some real setbacks, including the ban on charter school contracting with for-profit management companies …); redundant comptroller audits of charters …; and new bureaucratic measures on charter schools.”

In its editorial, though, the Daily News, also very pro charter, saw the restrictions as essentially inconsequential.
“Some,” it said, “were worthy, such as requiring the education department to spruce up traditional school buildings when charters share space and make improvements. Some were needless sops to the unions, such as barring sponsors from hiring profit-making firms to run schools.”

One big question marks is whether the measure will eliminate the city’s ability to approve charters on its own. Politics 365 writes that the agreement “takes the charter making power away from New York City and places it solely in the hands of the Board of Regents and the State University of New York.”

But John White, a city deputy chancellor, told Gotham Schools the city doesn’t see it that way since the city will remain one of three entities — along with SUNY and the Board of Regents — authorized to oversee schools.

And James Merriman, head of the New York Charter School Center, was quoted as saying, “A reading of the bill would allow either interpretation at this point.”

Then there is the thorny issue of space. Parents throughout the city have clashed with other parents and the Department of Education over the placing of charter schools in traditional public school buildings. A bill proposed in January — to the dismay of Bloomberg and Klein — would have required parents at the traditional school approve the charter’s “co-location” in their building.

The far weaker provision approved last week sets up building councils to allocate space and monitor conflict and also would require any improvements worth more than $5,000 made at the charter also be made in the other school.

The council’s function, though, would be simply advisory.
(The legislature does seem to like creating toothless bodies where education is concerned) This prompted Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters to write, “The chancellor retains the unilateral power to impose his will and decide on co-locations. The community and parents have no voice. He will devise the building plan, and the building council will be left to argue and fight afterwards. Thats power?

But Gotham Schools though the council might have more power than it appears.” The council … will be able to draw public attention to the plans. And public attention isnt without its own kind of power: The new mayoral control law created public hearings when schools were recommended for closure. The hearings created quite a firestorm and arguably played a role in the recent court decision overturning city-enforced school closures,” the blog’s Maura Walz wrote

By on June 1, 2010, 3:31 pm
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One Response to “Parsing the Charter School Deal”

  1. criminal records Says:
    June 2nd, 2010 at 7:07 am

    Fascinating blog on Gotham Gazette – The Wonkster » Blog Archive » Parsing the Charter School Deal, unlike the other ones!

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