The Charter Fight Ahead
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
That the obstructionism of the United Federation of Teachers and its pawn in Albany, Sheldon Silver, prevented the Legislature from lifting the limit on the number of charter schools is a defeat, but it may have its virtues. Among them is handing the Republican candidate for governor, John Faso, an issue with which to clobber his Democratic opponent, Eliot Spitzer, who sat on his hands and did nothing whatsoever to help the parents of New York City schoolchildren in this matter. It also gives Governor Pataki one last chance to outsmart Mr. Silver and the UFT.
For all the hoopla over changing the charter law, Mr. Pataki has it at least arguably within his power under the current law to increase the number of charter schools in the state beyond the 100-school limit imposed by the cap in the law. In Albany, the Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys and the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls should count as a single charter granted to Thomas Carroll’s group. Statewide, the six Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, schools – two in Harlem, one each in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Albany, and Buffalo – should all count as one charter.
The Community Partnership Charter School and the Beginning With Children Charter School in Brooklyn should count as one charter, as both are backed by the Beginning With Children Foundation created by Carol and Joseph Reich, the latter an investor in The New York Sun. Carl Icahn’s three charter schools in the Bronx? They should count as one charter. And any of the 100 existing charter grantees should be allowed to open as many sites as they want under their existing charters.
If Mr. Pataki really wants to get tough, he’ll also order the trustees of the State University of New York to revoke the charter they granted to the United Federation of Teachers. We’ve been a supporter of Randi Weingarten’s charter project, but even we start to wonder what is the point. It has enabled her to bask in the education reformer image that comes with operating a charter school, to the point of appearing at a star-studded opening at the Tribeca Film Festival of a propaganda film about the school, all while opposing ordinary parents who want enough charters so that their youngsters can have an opportunity.
Were the governor to take these kinds of steps, he’d be accused of legerdemain, at least by some. But by others he’d be credited with leadership. If the opponents of charter schools were to sue to prevent such techniques, let them. Maybe the legal battle will last as long as the 13-year Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York – i.e., long enough for a student to enter a charter school in kindergarten and graduate as a senior having gotten the education that Mr. Silver and his union allies are trying so hard to prevent.
Beyond Mr. Pataki, the way becomes clear for Mr. Faso to differentiate himself from Mr. Spitzer. The attorney general mouths support for charter schools, but it’s an open question what sort of schools they will be. What are the odds that any charter school deal that Mr. Spitzer is involved with won’t be gutted by concessions to the UFT and Mr. Silver on matters such as whether unions trying to organize charter school teachers will have to win a genuine secret-ballot election or will be allowed to win recognition with some measure short of that, such as a card-check susceptible to peer pressure?
Mr. Faso, in contrast, has been tested on this. He was the sponsor of the original charter school legislation in New York State and a leading figure in the passage of the 1998 law, which was a strong one but for the 100-school cap and the lack of capital funding for the new schools. In a statement last week Mr.Faso said, “Raising the cap on charter schools is an essential part of Mayor Bloomberg’s strategy to reform New York City’s schools. We need to support him as well as all of the parents and children throughout the state. New Yorkers pay almost 50 percent more per pupil than the national average, yet we rank 24th in achievement.”
Mr. Spitzer, while expressing support for charter schools in an interview with the Daily News, has been absent from the fight on the issue in Albany. The 475-word issue statement about education on Mr. Spitzer’s campaign Web site contains not a mention of charter schools or the need to lift the cap. The more that Mr. Silver and the UFT try to stop charter schools from expanding, the clearer the case is for a more dramatic change, such as vouchers or a private-school tuition tax credit, that would wrest education away from the hacks in Albany and their union keepers once and for all. So the setback last week in Albany is an opportunity for Mr. Faso.