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Charter leaders will ask City Hall for budget help tomorrow

Charter school heads will visit City Hall tomorrow to present Mayor Bloomberg with an audacious request: They would like him to go over state lawmakers’ heads and restore a funding freeze that Albany probably won’t.

This year, lawmakers froze charter schools’ per-pupil funding levels at last year’s level, denying school leaders almost $1,000 per student in an expected increase. Given the rotten budget climate, it’s likely the legislature will do the same to next year’s budget.

To fight back, charter school leaders tomorrow will meet with Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott — and, they hope, with Bloomberg, too — to suggest two possible solutions. Bloomberg can either “negotiate with Albany to remove the freeze,” as Charter School Center head James Merriman wrote in an e-mail last week. Or, Merriman wrote:

he can substitute other funds in the City’s own budget.

The latter plan would mean taking money from some source other than state funds earmarked for charter schools — some source that might, otherwise, go to district schools. That would be at a time when district schools are expecting a 4 percent cut to their budgets that all but forced teacher layoffs. It would almost certainly feed criticisms that the mayor supports charter schools at the expense of the traditional public school system. Bloomberg has already sets aside more than $400 million in capital funds to help charter schools with space needs. (The schools are not granted public space by state law.)

The argument for using the city budget to close the gap is that the average charter school student gets less taxpayer funding than the average city student. An Independent Budget Office study supported that claim. (Charter schools do not necessarily spend less money per student than city schools, however, thanks to philanthropic support that boosts their budgets.)

State projections for how much per-pupil funding charter schools can expect to get next year if the freeze is lifted are here. Without a freeze, the figure next year would be $13,527 for operations spending. With a freeze, the figure would stick at $12,433.

Here’s Merriman’s full e-mail:

From the Desk of James Merriman
June 11, 2010

Dear Charter Leaders,

As the city and state near resolution on their budgets, one of the biggest questions that we all have is whether or not the State’s draconian funding freeze on charters will remain in place.

While we continue to seek relief directly from Albany, we must pursue all avenues available to us. Mayor Bloomberg is a strong ally who we must convince to join us in this fight. That’s why Joe Williams and I set up a meeting with Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott for Tuesday, June 15 at 2:00 p. m. at City Hall. I’ve requested the Mayor attend, as well, to hear us out.

The fact is the Mayor has the ability to either negotiate with Albany to remove the freeze or he can substitute other funds in the City’s own budget.

Our cause is just: We know that district spending will go up again this year to help offset rising costs; meanwhile your costs will go up but your funding will stay flat.

That’s just not fair.

We have a compelling case, but we’ve only got one chance to make it directly and, as such, it is imperative that as many leaders as possible attend to present a strong, united front.

The Mayor has been a strong supporter, but it is your unprecedented record of success that has allowed him to hold up New York City as a model of educational achievement. It was your results that helped make such a strong case in Albany for the recent cap lift. It was
your parents who rooted him on during the mayoral control battle and his re-election campaign. We’ve been there for him and now he needs to be there for us.

We have to let the Mayor know that while charters can do more with less, there’s a limit, and a second funding freeze is beyond that limit.

Please let me know if you will attend. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail or call me this weekend. My cell is [REDACTED].


James Merriman
Chief Executive Office

New York City Charter School Center
111 Broadway, Suite 604, New York, NY 10006
tel: 212.437.8300 | fax: 212.227.2763

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