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Hochul's charter school expansion plan faces pushback

Student classroom at True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School on Brooks Avenue
file photo
Gov. Kathy Hochul is calling for an increase in the number of charter schools in the state.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal to increase the number of charter schools in the state is getting some pushback from members of the public education community, including teachers unions and the state education department.

But Hochul said the changes are minor and should not cause any upset.

The governor wants to lift the regional cap on the number of charter schools in New York City and allow the licenses of charter schools that have closed in the past few years to be reissued to new ones. The change would allow for about 85 more charter schools across the state.

The leaders of the state’s major teachers unions say that’s a bad idea. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said Hochul is making the same mistake many of her predecessors did.

“We cannot believe we're here having these conversations, again, when it's clear that parents in the community really do not want an expansion of charters at this point in time, because they understand that the resources are being drained from the public schools,” Mulgrew said on Feb. 9.

Most charters do not employ unionized workers.

Mulgrew said charter schools, which under state law are required to be funded by public school districts, often cherry-pick students from a community. He said the schools seldom provide services for children whose families may be homeless or do not speak English as their first language. And they can more easily expel rule-breaking students, who must then re-enter public schools.

“When a child presents challenges to a school, we don't just continue to suspend them until we label them as a disciplinary problem, and then have their parent take that child out of our school,” Mulgrew said. “We don't do that.”

Even Betty Rosa, the state’s education commissioner, is skeptical. At a recent joint legislative budget hearing, Rosa questioned why so many charter schools are created in Black and brown neighborhoods, but seldom in predominately white areas.

“If it’s such a wonderful experiment, then let me see it in places that embrace it other than communities of color,” Rosa said. “Good things are embraced by everybody, not just some.”

Rosa also complained that charter schools often “lack transparency” in their financial reporting.

In New York, education commissioners do not work directly for governors, but are independently chosen by the Board of Regents. The Regents are selected by the Legislature.

Charter school operators have been largely publicly silent about the proposed changes, but some have come to the Capitol in recent days to support the proposal.

“Charter schools are one of the most innovative and impactful tools that the Legislature has created to deal with the educational inequities that affect our communities,” said Miriam Raccah, CEO of the Black Latinx Asian Charter Collaborative. “The Legislature now has an opportunity to evolve that strategy by correcting a missed opportunity to put that tool in the hands of the communities it was most intended to impact and help.”

Raccah and other supporters and board members of the collaborative said the expansion is an opportunity for people of color to be in charge of more charter schools. Raccah said only 6% of the state’s charter schools are currently operated by non-white people, and few of the teachers are Black or brown.

Her group would like to change that, and planned to meet with the Legislature’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus to try to get them on board with Hochul’s plan.

Hochul is downplaying the backlash to her proposal, saying the changes aren’t that controversial.

“I've simply said that we should look at the fact that there's a statewide cap,” Hochul said on Feb. 22. “The Legislature already approved 460 charter schools. But I never understood the logic of having a differential between New York City and the rest of the states. So I'm simply saying that we should just remove that arbitrary line and allow the growth to continue.”

The governor also said increasing the number of charter schools won’t take away from public school funding. She has proposed record-high spending for K-12 education in her state budget proposal.

“So the argument that this takes away from public schools, I won't allow that,” she said.

Hochul also said she grew up attending public schools and is a staunch supporter.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.