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Bucking the trend, some charter schools sat out Race to the Top

Charter school advocates were some of the loudest supporters of New York State’s Race to the Top application, but a handful of charter schools mysteriously chose to sit out the competition.

Though the vast majority of New York charter schools have signed onto the state’s bid for a $700 million grant, more than a dozen opted out, making them ineligible for a share of the funds. As of last month when the state was shopping its application around, there were 164 charter schools across the state. Of those, 146 signed the state’s bid.

Unlike charter schools, district schools couldn’t individually sign onto the state’s plan. Instead, school district officials made the call, 656 of the total 700 choosing to participate. New York City was among them.

I tried asking charter school leaders who didn’t sign onto the state’s bid why they made that call, but they are likely some place tropical (it’s winter break.)

James Merriman, head of the NYC Charter School Center, said charter school leaders, unable to read the state’s full application, were wary of agreeing to more state regulation without all the details.

“My guess is that some charter schools were leery of finding themselves inadvertently brought back into the kind of regulatory structures and oversight and enmeshment with the State Education Department that as charters they enjoy not having,” he said.

Some of the charter schools that opted out, such as Green Dot and the UFT Charter School, are unionized and may have followed the teachers union’s lead in not signing a memorandum of understanding. Others that do work under a United Federation of Teachers contract, such as Amber Charter School, signed onto the application.

Some schools may be betting they’ll get a second chance, Merriman said. If the state wins federal funding in the first round of the competition, it could offer charter schools and districts that didn’t participate at first a chance to sign on afterward.