A top state education official said she’ll urge lawmakers to lift the cap that is blocking more charter schools from opening in New York City.
“Just saying no is not an answer,” said Merryl Tisch, chairwoman of the State University of New York’s board of trustees.
SUNY is one of the two state entities that licenses new charter schools. The other is the state Board of Regents and state education department.
SUNY approved about a dozen new charter schools over the past two years, but they can’t open because they’ve run up against the state’s Big Apple cap.
“Our schools should be allowed to open. The argument against raising the cap was that there were scarce resources during the pandemic and people didn’t want to take resources from district schools.” Tisch said.
“That argument,” Tisch said, “is gone.”
She noted that billions of additional federal and state dollars are now flowing into public schools thanks to COVID relief spending aid, revenues from a boost in state income taxes on the wealthy and a hike in levies on corporations.
“I don’t understand it. I’ve always believed that every child should have a choice of a very good school. New federal and state aid is going to K-12 education in a very profound way,” Tisch said.
“Rather than attack the charter school sector, we should figure out a way where charter schools — which are public schools — and traditional public schools can work together.”
Charter schools are privately managed, publicly-funded schools that are largely exempt from many bureaucratic rules and union restrictions. The mostly non-union schools typically have a longer school day and school year, and many outperform their district school counterparts on the state’s standardized math and English exams.
A poll released last week found that 70 percent of New York City Democrats support lifting the state cap and allowing new charter schools to open throughout the Big Apple.
Critics, including the teachers’ union, argue charter schools divert resources from regular public schools.
“New York charter schools demand an ever-larger share of public school dollars, resources and facilities, yet they support fewer high-need students than our public schools and they do not meet the same standards of transparency and accountability,” the United Federation of Teachers said.
Democratic lawmakers in the state Assembly and Senate rejected any expansion of charter schools as part of the state budget, largely parroting the union line.
But Tisch said lawmakers can still take up the issue before they adjourn for the summer.
The charter school cap is set at 460 statewide, with 290 of those slots set aside for New York City.
There are 92 unused charters left for the rest of the state but they can’t be used in the city — where the demand is — without a change in state law.
A scandal-weakened Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought a much more modest proposal: reauthorizing 20 so-called “zombie” licenses — those surrendered by schools that closed — to new charter school applicants.
But even that was rejected by lawmakers during state budget negotiations.
“We must hold charter schools to a basic level of accountability for how they use tax-payer dollars, and we must keep the charter school cap in place and avoid bringing back zombie charters that could cost NYC $160 million,” the UFT said.
Mayoral candidate Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president, said Monday he supports transferring the zombie licenses to new charter schools — but stopped short of endorsing lifting the cap.
“We need to scale up excellence … I support replacing failing charter schools with excellent charter schools,” Adams said.
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