2010-05-07 / Top Stories

Bill To Double Number Of Charters Goes To The Wire

By Howard Schwach

The Peninsula Preparatory Academy is now the only charter school operating in Rockaway. Founded by Senator Malcolm Smith and chartered by the New York City Board of Education, the school operates, for now, at Arverne By The Sea. The Peninsula Preparatory Academy is now the only charter school operating in Rockaway. Founded by Senator Malcolm Smith and chartered by the New York City Board of Education, the school operates, for now, at Arverne By The Sea. With a June 1 deadline looming and $700 million in federal funding at stake, the State Senate and Assembly upped the odds this week, coming up with competing and diametricallyopposed bills that would double the number of charter schools that could be enabled in New York State.

The Senate bill, which was passed on Monday, would raise the number of charters in New York State to 460 from the present 200.

The 460 number is considered to be a “magic number” by charter school activists because that is the threshold necessary for a state to get “Race To The Top” funding from the Obama administration.

A spokesperson for Senate leaders said, “This bill gives charter schools the tools they need to work for students and parents, and increases transparency and accountability.”

A number of Senate Democrats, who had previously opposed the plan, came on board at the last moment, prompting Albany insider Fredric Dicker, who writes a political column for the Daily News, to write, “Privately, [Democrats] conceded that passing the measure was an attempt to derail a threatened big-ticket political campaign against them by Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg and other prominent charter school supporters that could cost them their razor-thin majority in the November elections.”

Democrats in the Assembly, however, seem immune to the Bloomberg threat.

They have proposed a bill of their own, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who has long been an opponent of the mayor on the issue of raising the charter school cap.

The Democrats say they want real reform and a promise that special education and English Language Learners would have a place in the new charter. Presently, records show, less than five percent of students in charters fall into those categories while 33 percent of public school students do fall into those categories.

The Senate bill would allow charter schools to contract with outside agencies to address children with special needs, something that is anathema to the Democrats, including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who represents Rockaway in the legislature.

“The Senate bill is completely contradictory to the reforms we are pushing for; shared schooling, a parent voice, Regents-only approval, nonprofit charters only,” Pheffer told The Wave on Tuesday. “We have lots of questions about the Senate bill, as do parents and the UFT.”

“We are not going to vote on the Senate bill,” she said emphatically. “I have long been a strong proponent of public education and will continue to fight for the resources needed to adequately fund our educational system,” Pheffer added. “However, in District 27 a lack of confidence in some local public schools has led to charter schools becoming an option some parents are seeking. It is important that any legislation enacted addresses the concerns that have been raised regarding co-location, siting, transparency and accountability so parents and the entire community are informed as to the educational opportunities that are offered in all our schools. The legislation passed by the Senate does not answer many of these questions and concerns. We must ensure that we remain vigilant in providing all necessary resources to our educators and children.”

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