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Paterson introduces compromise bill as city signs onto RttT bid

Governor David Paterson is trying to hammer out a compromise with state legislators as lawmakers convene this evening to take up the question of whether and how to raise the state’s cap on charter schools.

Under a new bill introduced this evening, the governor is proposing to lift the charter cap to 460 — 10 percent of the state’s schools — and retain some of the changes to charter school governance and oversight proposed by legislative leaders. The bill would require charter schools to serve higher numbers of at-risk students and would increase state financial oversight of the schools.

But it strikes other provisions that many legislators strongly support, including consolidating the power to authorize charters under the Board of Regents, prohibiting for-profit companies from operating schools and making it more difficult for charter schools to be placed in district school buildings.

The new bill takes a middle ground between Paterson’s original plan, which would have eliminated the cap with almost no concessions to lawmakers who want more checks on how charter schools are governed, and the plan advocated by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver’s bill would double the cap but add changes that charter school supporters, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say would stymie the growth of charters in the state. Bloomberg, who wants the number of charter schools in the city to grow with little restriction, has thrown his weight behind the governor’s plan.

Both sides claim that their proposals will make the state more competitive for a slice of the federal Race to the Top grant that could be worth up to $700 million.

Lawmakers are set to convene at a special session in Albany tonight beginning at 8 p.m., though sources said today it is likely that they will gavel in and out of the session immediately and use the time to debate the bills and work out the final details of legislation.

Such a move would mean that no bill would come to the floor for a vote until tomorrow afternoon, hours before the state’s Race to the Top application is due (in hard copy) at 4:30 p.m. in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the New York City Department of Education and the city teachers union announced today that they have endorsed the state’s Race to the Top plan.

The city had held off from endorsing the application as a way to pressure state legislators to raise the state’s cap on charter schools. But as legislators persisted in their demands for changes to charter law that the city finds unacceptable, Bloomberg today shifted tactics, arguing that the city is taking the high ground by backing the state’s plan.

“In signing on to the state’s application while others weaken it, we are drawing a clear line between those who support reform and the Governor’s efforts to win $700 million, and those who merely pay lip service to these goals in order to avoid blame later,” the mayor said in a statement.

Bloomberg’s statement today continues a pattern of heated rhetoric surrounding the proposed legislation. Silver argued yesterday that the legislature’s bill would not harm the state’s Race to the Top chances, and that Bloomberg and Klein’s opposition to the bill is “solely to maintain their unchecked power to displace traditional public schools from existing classroom space.”

Here’s the latest legislation, as introduced by Governor Paterson: