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All eyes on Albany as state’s RTTT app remains up in the air

Governor David Paterson at a meeting about the state’s Race to the Top application on Friday. Arnold Duncan, meet Albany. Whaddya think?

This is the question Governor Paterson and state lawmakers are trying to figure out right now, 48 hours from the deadline for the federal Race to the Top competition.

They’re spending the final hours mulling whether to pass legislation that — depending on who you talk to — would either bolster the state’s chances of winning the race, and as much as $700 million, or would be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” imperiling New York’s odds, as Mayor Bloomberg said in a strongly worded statement this afternoon.

The legislation being circulated right now would double the charter school cap to allow 200 new schools in the state. It would also severely rewrite how the schools are opened and closed and in which neighborhoods they’re allowed, following many of the suggestions proposed by the teachers union last week. These include eliminating the city’s power to authorize charter schools, as well as that of the most respected authorizer, the State University of New York, which even authorized the UFT’s own charter school.

(Read the latest legislation here.)

Paterson invoked a recent conversation he had with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at a public meeting Friday, where he pushed for SUNY to be thrown back in the mix and for the cap to be raised to 460 rather than 400. Then Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver countered that he’d heard from Duncan’s general counsel, Charles Rose, that a lift to 400 would be enough.

“I know who the secretary of education is. His name is Arnold Duncan, and — ” Paterson affirmed, angrily.

“No, his name is Arne Duncan, as a matter of fact,” Silver cut in.

(Watch the full video of the meeting here.)

The Daily News reported today that Paterson plans to bring lawmakers to work early from vacation, starting tomorrow night at 8pm, in order to hammer out an agreement on the legislation.

Silver argues the legislation will please both the Obama administration, which vowed to reward states that raise restrictions on charter schools, and state lawmakers. Many local legislators side with the teachers union in arguing charter schools need more regulation — and, according to Silver, would not vote to lift the charter school cap without it. Many of the draft legislation’s changes echo recommendations made by the city teachers union last week.

Answering Paterson’s concern that the union-backed changes could end up acting as a “poison pill” that costs New York hundreds of millions of dollars, Silver replied with a pragmatic argument. “Legislation requires votes of legislators,” he said, repeating many lawmakers’ concerns with the schools, which operate outside of the usual public bureaucracy.

Paterson could veto the bill or refuse to go along with it if its language remains mainly unchanged, as a Governor Bloomberg clearly would.

But he also might elect not to block legislation, opting instead to reach a compromise with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and the Senate Democrats. In that case, it’s possible the state could turn its application in along with a dramatically revised charter school law.