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Close to a deal: Charter cap to rise, RFPs, space-sharing rules

After negotiating late into the night, the Assembly, Senate, Mayor Bloomberg, and city teachers union are closer than ever to a deal on how to make New York more competitive for Race to the Top. But even the seemingly final bill introduced today may not be the last version. An Albany source said there are already plans to amend the bill.

The full text of the bill in the most updated form we know of is here. Background on Race to the Top is here.

This bill would raise the cap on charter schools to 460 from 200, but change the way schools are opened. Prospective charter school operators would have to respond to Request for Proposal documents, like contractors, rather than applying on their own. Exactly how this process would work is unclear, but one effect could be slowing the pace of charter school growth. The bill puts a cap on the number of newly approved charter schools that could open by September 2011 — 32.

The deal also aims to ease the tensions (and sometimes all-out wars) that have happened when charter schools are placed inside traditional public school buildings. Now, before schools are placed together, the city’s Department of Education would have to write up a new document called a “building usage plan” outlining exactly which rooms would be used by which schools, and proposing how the schools can share common spaces like cafeterias, libraries, playgrounds, and auditoriums.

The two schools would also have to set up a “shared space committee” — comprised of representatives from each school — to make sure they follow the plan. As far as I can tell, though, in this version of a deal charter school critics lost their battle for parents at the traditional public school get a say in whether or not charter schools can move into their buildings.

Finally, the bill as it’s now written explicitly allows the state comptroller to audit charter schools. It also ramps up regulations forcing charter schools to reach demographic targets that match nearby public schools. That means that charter schools would be expected to have similar numbers of special education students, students still learning English, and students eligible for free lunch because of family poverty.