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State budget revives ‘zombie’ charters in NYC

New York Teacher
Taking action in Albany
Jonathan Fickies

Nearly 900 UFT members and public school parents traveled to Albany on March 13 to urge state lawmakers to reject Gov. Hochul’s charter expansion proposal.

Following passage of a state budget that allows 14 new charter schools to open in New York City, the UFT and other public education advocates are demanding more transparency and accountability from the charter sector and pushing the state to close loopholes that benefit corporate charters over public schools.

State lawmakers adopted the budget on May 2 after protracted negotiations with Gov. Kathy Hochul to resolve disagreements on charter schools and other issues.

The Senate and the Assembly rejected the governor’s proposal to lift the charter cap — which would have allowed another 106 charters in New York City — but they later agreed to reissue the operating licenses of 14 defunct charter schools in New York City and eight in the rest of the state. They approved the measure even though there are nearly 40,000 unfilled seats at existing city charter schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew applauded state lawmakers for rejecting Hochul’s plan to lift the cap. “But unfortunately, the governor listened to the demands of a handful of billionaires and revived 14 zombie charters for New York City,” he said, referring to a $5 million ad campaign sponsored by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy charter advocates.

The UFT and its state affiliate, NYSUT, joined parents in a grassroots campaign against lifting the cap or reviving zombie charters. Thousands of union members made an impact by emailing, calling and tweeting at their state representatives to ask them to stand with public schools and not permit an expansion of charter schools that would drain space and money from public schools.

“Now it’s time for the governor to listen to New York parents who want accountability and transparency from the charter sector and an end to loopholes that benefit corporate charters at the expense of our public schools,” Mulgrew said after the budget agreement was announced.

The UFT supports state legislation that would require charter school operators to be transparent about their enrollment, finances, management and operations, and student discipline policies. The union also believes charter schools should be required to educate English language learners, students with disabilities and students in temporary housing in comparable numbers to public schools. The proposed legislation has a provision that impedes charters with assets valued at more than $1 million from having access to a ­co-located or private space at New York City’s expense.

The union also supports a bill that would limit charter grade expansion. A loophole in current state law allows a charter operator to open three separate schools — an elementary school, a middle school and a high school — under a single charter. Another piece of legislation backed by the UFT would make the state Board of Regents the sole charter authorizer.

The adopted state budget includes a few provisions to prevent further concentration of charter schools and limit new co-locations. Zombie charters cannot be placed in a community school district, such as Harlem’s District 5, where more than 55% of students are already enrolled in charter schools. Unlike existing charter schools in New York City, for which the city has to either pay rent or provide space in public schools, rent and facility aid for the 14 schools that get the zombie charters will come from a new $20 million state fund.

Deal increases aid for city schools by $525M

The state budget adopted on May 2 includes a substantial increase in state aid for New York City schools. City schools will receive an additional $525 million, a 4.2$ increase over last year.

Related Topics: Charter Schools