Upcoming Legislative Session: Will the Legislature/Governor Agree to a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

In December, 1998 Governor Pataki called the legislature back into session, sessions after Election Day are called “lame duck” sessions, legislators who were defeated or chose not to run participate in the sessions. After lots of behind the scenes wrangling the legislature passed two items: a raise for themselves and Governor Pataki’s charter school bill.

In the intervening twenty years the charter school law has been amended a number of times, raising the cap on the number of schools and a few other changes enhancing the rights of charters.

Read the charter school law here (click on “laws,” scroll down to EDU and click, scroll down to CHARTER SCHOOLS)

Charter schools in New York State are “authorized” by two organizations, the Charter School Institute, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) and the New York State Education Department Charter School Office.

The authorizers have different standards for approving charters; the Charter School Institute is the easier route; a recent applicant was turned down a number of times by the Charter School Office, applied to the Charter School Institute and was approved. A decade ago Merryl Tisch was the chancellor of the Board of Regents, she advocated, without success, for legislation that would place all charters under the Board of Regents; will the idea be back on the table?

The law sets caps on the number of charters, one for New York City and one for the remainder of the state, the New York City cap has only seven slots remaining.

The purpose of the creation of charter schools is made clear in the opening sections of the law,

2.  The purpose of this article is to authorize a system of charter  schools to provide opportunities for teachers, parents, and community  members to establish and maintain schools that operate independently of  existing schools and school districts in order to accomplish the  following objectives:   

(a) Improve student learning and achievement;   

(b)  Increase learning opportunities for all students, with special  emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk  of academic failure;   

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;   

(d)   Create new professional opportunities for teachers, school administrators and other school personnel;   

(e) Provide parents and students with expanded choices in the types of  educational opportunities that are available within the public school  system; and   

(f)  Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to  performance-based accountability systems by holding the schools  established under this article accountable for meeting measurable  student achievement results. 

The reality is the instructional program in charter schools is no different than the instructional program in traditional public schools, if you visited a public and a charter school the classrooms would be indistinguishable; except, in some charter schools two teachers in a room or state of the art instructional materials and supplies. The “dirty little secret” is philanthropy, in order to supplement the per student funds provided by the state, dollars that come out of school district budgets, charter schools aggressively raise money through 501c3 provisions in the tax code that provides tax advantages to contributors. The following is from Guidestar,

Success Academy Charter Schools

Success Academy Charter Schools Inc.

New York, NY | EIN: 20-5298861 |  Number: 4461446442

The dual mission of Success Academy Charter Schools is to create exceptional public schools that prepare children from all backgrounds …

GROSS RECEIPTS 
$67,625,756

ASSETS
$130,012,076

Success Academy Charter Schools – NYC

New York, NY | EIN: 36-4629540 |  Number: 3584759733

GROSS RECEIPTS 
$227,531,280

ASSETS
$65,871,158

Yes, some charter school networks have raised incredible amounts of money – side by side in the same building, very richly funded charters and underfunded public schools.

The reality is quite different than the purpose of the law, which leads to the question – why does the state continue to authorize new charter schools? I would suggest the legislature and the governor, following the lead of the NAACP, impose a moratorium on the creation and/or expansion of charter schools. The NAACP resolution,

We are calling for a moratorium on the expansion of the charter schools at least until such time as:

(1) Charter schools are subject to the same transparency and accountability standards as public schools

(2) Public funds are not diverted to charter schools at the expense of the public school system

(3) Charter schools cease expelling students that public schools have a duty to educate and

(4) Charter schools cease to perpetuate de facto segregation of the highest performing children from those whose aspirations may be high but whose talents are not yet as obvious.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in interviews for New York City Public Advocate who will be chosen in a Special Election on February 26th. Of the nine candidates who were interviewed seven were current elected officials, I asked them if they agreed with the NAACP and would they support a moratorium, all said “yes.”

The legislature/governor should mirror the NAACP and pass a law imposing a moratorium on the authorization and/or expansion of charter schools.

Authorizers can extend a charter for up to five years, and, the authorizer sets forth a range of Charter Frameworks (See here); authorizers can choose not to renew the charter and close the school, renew for a full five year term or fewer than five years; in my view the Frameworks are far too vague and permissive.

The law requires that charter schools make “good faith efforts” to enroll “comparable” numbers of students with disabilities, Title 1 students and English language learners as neighboring public schools.  “Good faith efforts” is not defined, and charters that routinely fail to enroll students referenced above are renewed. A remedy to this issue is to recommend to the legislature a number of changes to the charter law, I suggest changes, indicated in bold type below, that I believe would clarify the law.

Under the law “district” refers to New York City (cities with over one million inhabitants) the law should be changed so that “district” means the Community Education Council (CEC) in which the charter school or proposed charter school is located. This would allow for Council members, parents, to play a significant role in the charter granting process.

Another issue is the failure of a charter school to reach enrollment or retention targets within the five years of the original or subsequent charters, in these cases the SED recommends two, three or four year renewals. I suggest making it clear that if a charter school fails to meet enrollment/retention targets within four years it faces  non-renewal of the charter.

Recommended Changes in the Language of the Charter School Law:

Section 2851 1 Provide schools with a method to change from rule-based to performance-based  accountability  systems by holding  the schools  established  under  this  article  accountable  for  meeting  measurable  student achievement results. Failure to meet measurable student achievement goals by  the fourth year of the charter shall be grounds for non-renewal of the charter. Effective immediately there shall be a moratorium on the granting of new charters.

Section 2852 2 (d) in a school district where the total enrollment of resident students attending charter schools in the base year is greater than five percent of the total public school enrollment of the school district in the base year (i) granting the application  would  have  a  significant  educational  benefit  to  the  students  expected to attend the proposed  charter school or (ii) the school district in which the  charter  school  will be located consents to such application. In a school district in a city having a population of one million or more inhabitants, the district in which the proposed charter school would be located shall be defined as the Community School District in which the charter is located and the Community Education Council shall be the consenting authority. 

Section 2852 3 B (b) A description of student achievement goals for the school’s educational program and the chosen methods of evaluating that students have attained the skills and knowledge specified for those goals.  Such educational program shall meet or exceed the student performance standards adopted by the board of regents for other public schools. Failure to reach goals by the fourth year of the charter shall be grounds the non-renewal of the charter.

Section 2852 9b (i)  that the proposed charter school would meet or exceed enrollment and teacher and student retention targets, as prescribed by the  board  of  regents or the board of trustees of the state university of New York, as applicable, of students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who  are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. When  developing  such  targets,  the  board of regents and the board of  trustees of the state university of New York, shall ensure (1) that such  enrollment targets are comparable to or greater than the enrollment figures of such categories of students attending the public schools within the school  district, or in a city school district in a city having a population of one million or more inhabitants, the community school district, in which the  proposed charter school would be  located; and (2) that such retention targets are equal to or greater than the rate of retention of teachers and students attending the public schools within the school  district, or in a city school district in a city having a population  of  one million or more inhabitants, the community school district, in which  the proposed charter school would be located; and (3) failure to achieve targets listed supra by the fourth year of the charter shall for grounds for non-renewal of the charter (4) the chartering entity shall collect information listing the reason for non-retention of students and teachers as well academic level of students leaving the charter school.

Among the prime purposes of the charter school law,

(c) Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods;(

d) Create new professional opportunities for teachers, school  administrators and other school personnel; 

This has clearly not been the case, the “teaching methods” in charter schools mirror the methods in district schools and there is no evidence of “new professional opportunities” in charter schools.

I recommend amending the law to call for a moratorium on the creation of new charter schools. The creation of new charter schools saps funds away from district schools and the new charter schools are in no way are “innovative.” Additionally the law should be amended to make all charter school data, especially financial data as transparent as possible.

A careful reading of the law may result in other clarifying changes, the current law is simply too vague, at least as read by the authorizers, I believe that clarifying changes would go a long way towards tightening the law and the interpretation of the law and would be applauded by the vast percentage of public school parents.

One response to “Upcoming Legislative Session: Will the Legislature/Governor Agree to a Moratorium on the Creation of New Charter Schools?

  1. The better question asked, is do Charter Schools out perform Public Schools within the same communities? From my observation, the answer is an unqualified yes with some exceptions. Therefore the next question asked is how, and why? Certainly there are practices and procedures within the Charter School Framework that are not permitted in The Public School. So when you look at what can be replicated vis a vis Charter to Public School, its all about the Mission Statement and Staff Development requirements. Its also all about union vs. non union governance. It is my firm belief that until and unless The UFT takes the handcuffs off School Supervisors with regard to identifying and ridding their instructional staffs of incompetent instructors,nothing much will change. No, I do not advocate summary dismissal. But there must be a new norm wherebye the UFT in working with school supervisors and community reps eliminate the endless stream of grievances and hearings that are presently in play when it comes to removal of teaching staff from a particular school. With that said, I don’t believe that will ever happen. So happy New Year everyone. Lets keep on keepin on!

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