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New York could be boxed out of Duncan's Race to the Top funds

There’s another round of federal stimulus dollars that local school districts can hope for, but it may be out of reach for New York schools. That’s because the state has a law Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says could jeopardize applications for the funds: a cap on the number of charter schools educators are allowed to create.

Duncan told Congress last week that, in awarding a new pot of stimulus funds meant to encourage innovation, he will give preference to states without charter school caps. He said he would also give preference to states with caps that agree to lift them.

The pot includes $5 billion to be given through a competitive grant process known as the “Race to The Top.” Chancellor Joel Klein has indicated that he wants to apply for Race to the Top funds to expand innovations such as the citywide data system and the bonus program for schools whose students show improvement on test scores.

Duncan himself said on a visit to a Brooklyn charter school the day after he announced the Race to the Top program that he hopes to receive applications from New York. “I fully expect New York City and New York State to put together a great proposal,” Duncan said that day. “In many ways, you are already setting the standard.”

The new promise to deny funds to states with charter caps could mean those proposals aren’t as happily met by the federal government. Under lobbying pressure from the teachers union, the state legislature has capped the number of charter schools in New York at 200.

The promise also could be a political tactic to offer support to charter schools. Duncan’s words will surely boost the arguments of charter school supporters like Mayor Bloomberg who have called for lifting New York’s cap entirely.

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