(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul)
This month, the New York State Legislature has the chance to pass a state budget that will have a profoundly positive impact for thousands of students in New York City.
In February, Governor Kathy Hochul proposed lifting the regional cap on charter schools in New York City, and reviving “zombie” charters – a proposal that would finally allow more public charter schools to open their doors. The proposal would mean two things: more good schools in the communities that need them most and giving more parents a choice of where to send their kids to school.
The Governor isn’t alone in this fight – charters are supported by a vast majority of New York City families, and Mayor Eric Adams has been clear in his support for public charter schools. In fact, a new StudentsFirstNY poll was just released that shows just how popular charter schools are in New York City — 78% of Black voters and 81% of Latino voters believe charters can play a positive role in our school system; nearly two-thirds of New York City voters – including two-thirds of Black voters and more than three-quarters of Latino voters – want the charter cap lifted; and two-thirds of Latino voters are more likely to support candidates if they support charter schools.
I stood shoulder to shoulder with the thousands of families who have rallied with legislators for months to ask that organizations like Latinas on the Verge of Excellence (L.O.V.E.) and East Side House Settlement expand their work to lift up students. For that to happen, we need the legislative leaders in Albany to honor their constituents’ wishes and ensure that the Governor’s proposal is included in this year’s final budget. We simply can’t afford to leave this solution off the table when it has the potential to make a real difference for students – especially the thousands of students from Latino and Black communities who have been left behind by the education system.
When I immigrated to New York City from Colombia, I saw the disparities faced by Latina students firsthand. I worked hard. I put myself through college by working as a personal trainer, and was able to succeed, launching my own nonprofit – L.O.V.E. – to support, mentor, and empower young Latinas to succeed in school.
Over the past decade, L.O.V.E. has served over 2,500 students across 30 different public schools in New York City, providing young Latinas and young women in general the mentorship, college and career counseling, and targeted support they need to promote their educational, physical, and mental well-being. When schools quickly pivoted to go online during the height of the pandemic, so did we. Our program became a safe-haven for young women who felt like they had nowhere to turn to share their struggles, feel valued, and receive the social-emotional and academic supports they need to grow and thrive.
Today, we’re working to scale the success of the L.O.V.E program and open a brand-new school that provides individualized learning, wellness support, a college preparatory curriculum, and a plethora of extracurricular activities to prepare young women to succeed in their academic and personal lives.
We need to scale excellence where we see it – and today, we’re seeing it in public charter schools, where Latino and Black students continue to close the proficiency gap in both math and English, and where enrollment has grown despite the downturn in district school enrollment. We should be expanding these schools, not stunting their growth. Albany revived 22 New York charters in 2015, and they can do it again.
These are ideals that all New Yorkers can get behind. The only thing standing in the way is the charter cap, and because of it, innovative schools like L.O.V.E. may never be able to open their doors.
The state budget and legislative session in Albany isn’t just a selection of bills and dollar figures – it’s a reflection on our values as New Yorkers. So, the question is, what do lawmakers value more, the status quo or our students and families?
Now more than ever, we need to ensure that as we continue to recover from the pandemic together, we do so equitably and in a way that addresses the inequities that marginalized populations in New York City face every day. That starts with improving education, and improving education starts with lifting the charter cap.
Claudia Espinosa is Founder of Latinas on the Verge of Excellence (L.O.V.E.). On Twitter @LOVEmentoring.