Charter Advocates Float Equity Provisions To Raise Charter Cap

At least 51 percent of the trustees or ‘leadership teams’ of new charters would need to be individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, per a pending bill.

AP/Hans Pennink
Governor Hochul presents her executive state budget at the state Capitol February 1, 2023. AP/Hans Pennink

Governor Hochul’s plan to increase the number of charter schools at New York City may yet find a way through an anti-charter state legislature — if she includes racial equity provisions.

In her executive budget, Mrs. Hochul last month proposed increasing the number of slots for charter schools available in the state’s biggest city. Almost immediately, the Democratic-led legislature declared Mrs. Hochul’s proposal a “nonstarter.”

Charters are publicly funded and privately operated schools that have drawn the ire of teachers unions since their inception 30 years ago. More than 140,000 students in the city attend charter schools, and 50,000 more sit on waitlists for the oversubscribed programs, according to the New York City Charter School Center.

The growth of charter schools has posed a threat to unions by decreasing the number of unionized teacher jobs, and bosses have lobbied Democratic politicians to oppose charter schools and set a charter cap.

Mrs. Hochul’s proposal calls for eliminating the regional cap on charter schools — it is 275 for New York City — while maintaining the state limit of 460 charters.

By eliminating the regional limit and reassigning “zombie charters,” licenses for schools that no longer operate, Mrs. Hochul would be clearing a path for nearly 100 new charter schools at New York City.

“The naked attempt to remove the cap on charters in NYC is a nonstarter, since the cap has historically served to strike the balance between giving parents so-called ‘choice’ and the constitutional requirement to keep public schools open, and there’s no justification for upsetting that balance,” the chairman of the state senate’s committee on New York City education, John Liu, said in a statement following Mrs. Hochul’s announcement.

Mr. Liu and his Democratic colleagues, allied with the teachers unions, pose a formidable challenge to Mrs. Hochul’s plan to raise the number of charter schools.

There may yet be a way for the governor to break the gridlock over the charter cap — by including an equity provision that would prioritize granting charters to schools led by persons of color.

A state senator representing Queens, Leroy Comrie, has proposed a bill that would nearly double the state charter cap — while maintaining diversity requirements for new schools.  At least 51 percent of the board of trustees or “leadership teams” of new charters would need to be individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, per Mr. Comrie’s legislation.

Some see this as the best shot to boost charters in New York. “Racial equity is the way forward to get the cap lifted,” the CEO of the Black, Latinx, Asian Charter Collaborative, Miriam Raccah, tells the New York Post.“We want people who run charter schools to be more representative of the students they serve. We want to incentivize the hiring of principals and teachers who are people of color.”

The student body population of charter schools in the city is more than 90 percent black and Latino. The state has piloted a similar equity initiative in its rollout of legalized marijuana. The state is prioritizing licensing for minority business owners and those “disproportionately impacted by the enforcement of cannabis prohibition,” among other groups.

Mrs. Hochul and charter advocates could receive an answer by April 1, when the budget is due.

The New York Sun

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