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Charter bill may pass Senate today, faces uphill battle in Assembly

New York State’s Senate is heading for a vote on a bill that would more than double the charter school cap today, but Albany observers said it’s unlikely the bill will make it through the Assembly unchanged.

Introduced last Friday by the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by Senator Malcolm Smith, the bill is part of the state’s second bid for $700 million in Race to the Top money. Sources in Albany said the Senate is likely to vote on the bill this afternoon — it’s being pushed by Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson and won the endorsement of Governor David Paterson — but the bill’s chances in the Assembly are considerably less certain.

Though Assemblyman Karim Camara introduced Sampson’s bill today, Assemblyman Alan Maisel said he doesn’t think the bill has enough support to reach the floor, especially because it doesn’t give the state comptroller the power to audit charter schools.

“I don’t think it will be going to the Assembly,” Maisel said. “People who are pushing this bill are making it sound like, ‘God, we need this money so badly.’ But you cannot use the money for the current budget deficit that we have.”

Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said that Sampson’s bill is “silent” on issues such as school co-location and neighborhood saturation (having too many charter schools in a particular neighborhood), which were key provisions of a bill that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver backed several months ago.

“You cannot have a charter bill that does not address these issues,” she said.

Only three months ago, Sampson was behind Silver’s bill. Charter school advocates said the new bill is a compromise that includes the teachers unions’ demands that charter schools enroll a higher percentage of special education students and children not fluent in English. But union leaders, who were caught off guard by the bill’s sudden arrival on Friday, detest the bill.

“The unions are trying to derail the whole thing with their weekend tantrum,” said Peter Murphy, the policy director for the New York State Charter School Association.

“This is just the beginning of the discussion,” he said. “Better to have it on May 3rd than May 31st.”

“This is a legislative matter and they will work it out,” Tisch said. “The only thing I asked for in this entire thing is that they work it out in a timely way.”

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