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Merryl Tisch says now is the time to raise charter school cap

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch supports raising the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York State, she told me in an interview yesterday.

“My opinion is that the charter cap is now at a place where it will prevent us from opening great charter schools,” Tisch said. “I would like to see us have a conversation about lifting the cap in a really thoughtful way.”

Tisch has often voiced support for eventually raising the charter cap, but always in the future tense — a conservative position compared to those like Mayor Bloomberg, who push for the cap to be eliminated altogether. Her comments yesterday indicate that she will still support a cap but is ready for it to be lifted.

The state currently caps the number of charter schools allowed in the state at 200; there are currently 36 remaining charters available, and 15 of those spots will likely be filled by schools already approved by the New York City Department of Education. DOE officials have said that they intend not to approve any more charter schools until the cap is raised.

Tisch’s comments may also indicate that the state education department is worried the cap will harm the state’s chances at receiving federal Race to the Top grant money. In the criteria for judging a state’s Race to the Top application, which awards points on a 485-point scale, 40 points are dedicated to state charter school laws. Critics have expressed concern that New York’s application will be hurt if the state cannot approve any new charter schools at the time it submits its application.

“This is a program that has a scoring rubric and this is how it’s going to work,” said Peter Murphy, policy director of the New York Charter Schools Association. “The 40 points matter.”

The Race to the Top criteria give preference to states that do not have caps at all. But Tisch maintained that she wants to raise the cap rather than eliminate it. Tisch and state education commissioner David Steiner argue that the competition for a limited number of charters allows only the highest quality charter to open.

“I don’t want expansion for expansion’s sake,” Tisch said. “But I do believe that expansion is important right now.”

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