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Harlem lawmakers push for neighborhood-focused charter cap

Protestors at P.S. 123 yesterday applauded lawmakers pushing for limits on charter schools in Harlem. Eva Moskowitz, the C.E.O. of the Success Charter Network, was a particular target. (Photo screenshot from video below.)
Protestors at P.S. 123 yesterday applauded lawmakers pushing for limits on charter schools in Harlem. Eva Moskowitz, the C.E.O. of the Success Charter Network, was a particular target. (Photo screenshot from video below.)

The next front for the Harlem school wars could be Albany.

City Council member Inez Dickens yesterday proposed changing the state law to cap the number of charter schools that a single operator can open in a given school district.

She was speaking at a protest against the Success charter school network’s expansion into a traditional Harlem public school, P.S. 123.

Dickens said she had the support of state Sen. Bill Perkins, and Keith Wright, an Assemblyman representing Harlem, said he would introduce legislation to make that change on his side of the legislature.

A neighborhood- and operator-specific cap would add to what exists now, a cap on the number of charter schools across New York state at 200. There are 1,500 public schools in the city.

Such a cap would also squarely challenge the strategy the Success Charter Network has pursued of opening a large number of charter schools in a designated area; Eva Moskowitz, the network’s CEO, has said her goal is to open 40 Harlem charter schools in the next 10 years. A paper published last year by Democrats for Education Reform explains the strategy, which combines political and educational efforts with a goal of building public support for charter schools.

Charter schools now make up about 25% of public schools in Harlem, and that’s not counting schools opening in the fall. Debate about them reignited most recently after Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News reported that Moskowitz’s network had surprised P.S. 123 officials by moving into additional classrooms without warning. Moskowitz said in a statement that the Department of Education had turned over the rooms to her on July 1, but the DOE says she had not been given the go-ahead to actually move into them.

Joining the lawmakers at their protest yesterday were organizers from the group ACORN, which is an ally of the city teachers union and one of the community groups to which the union provides financial support. The union has opened two charter schools and represents some charter school teachers, but it supports capping the number of charter schools allowed to operate.

The executive director of the New York City Charter School Center, James Merriman, said he would oppose such a push in Albany. “It’s always a mistake to limit the growth of high performing schools whether charter or otherwise,” Merriman said. He also pointed out that Harlem has a “diversity” of charter school operators — not just the Success Network.

Update: “That seem clearly the wrong way to go,” Moskowitz said of Dickens’ proposal. “I find it odd that while president Obama has specifically come out against artificial limitations on high performing charters, local officials would be trying to limit them.”

Here’s a video from yesterday’s protest:

The video is courtesy of Ken Hirsh, who blogs for GothamSchools’ Community section and is a financial supporter of Harlem Success.

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