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Charter group launches campaign to draw Spanish-speakers

For the first time, the city’s main charter school advocacy organization is making a push for parents of Spanish-speaking students to apply to charter schools.

The New York City Charter Center is starting an ad campaign in buses and bus shelters in the South Bronx and East Harlem in hopes of reaching Spanish-speaking families who are unfamiliar with charter schools. The ads, which are in Spanish, say that charter schools — “escuelas charters” — are free, public schools that offer their students individualized attention. They include a number for a Spanish-language hotline parents can call to get applications or ask questions.

The ads will run in 300 city buses and on 10 bus shelters.

Last May, when New York State’s legislature more than doubled the number of charter schools that can open, it also approved a teachers union-backed proposal to could force some charters to enroll more non-English speaking and special education students.

The law set a vague requirement that charter schools serve similar percentages of non-English speaking and special education students as the other public schools in their district. Currently, city charter schools enroll smaller percentages of these students than do traditional public schools.

According to the law, schools are supposed to hit targets for both student enrollment and student retention that are “comparable” to neighborhood schools. New York’s two charter authorizers, SUNY Charter School Institute and the State Education Department, have not yet clarified what those guidelines will be. If charter schools don’t enroll and retain more of these students, they could eventually lose their charters. However, if a school’s authorizer decides that it has made a good faith effort to bring in more of these students, it could overlook low enrollment numbers.

Director of the Charter Center James Merriman said his organization was focusing its campaign English Language Learners because the enrollment gap between charter and district schools is wider for these students than for special education students.

“Both are clearly issues we’re targeting and have been for a long time,” Merriman said. “We felt that a Spanish-language campaign is just more noticeable and makes more sense than trying to create ads for special education students. That doesn’t mean we won’t consider doing it.”

A spokeswoman for the Center would not say how much money the organization was spending on the campaign. Applications for city charter schools are due on April 1.

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