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City actually undecided about charter parents' call for inclusion

The city is “sympathetic” to — but not ready to embrace — charter parents’ desire to win spots on district parent councils, officials said today.

On Tuesday, more than 1,200 charter school parents traveled to Albany as part of Lobby Day. Their main ask was that legislators set aside seats for them on the city’s elected parent councils. The councils, known as Community Education Councils, frequently discuss charter schools but have no formal authority over them.

A Department of Education spokesman told me on Tuesday that the city’s position on the request had not changed since 2009, when officials argued that seating charter parents on CECs would represent an inappropriate conflation of charter and district school management.

As it turns out, that’s not quite true. The city hasn’t actually made up its mind about whether to support a bill introduced by two legislators — Assemblyman Peter Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, and State Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican from Brooklyn — that would reserve one of the 11 seats on each council for a charter school parent.

I heard today from Micah Lasher, the city’s chief lobbyist in Albany, who said that the city had taken a deeper look at the issue on request from charter advocates and found merit in their argument.

“There’s a recognition that the CECs are a primary arena in which education debate play out on the local level and at the moment charter parents’ voices are largely not part of those debates in large measure because they are not well represented on the CECs,” Lasher said. “We’re quite sympathetic to that concern.”

But at the same time, he said, charter schools are distinct from district schools for a reason. The Bloomberg administration has encouraged charter schools to proliferate and has promised to fast-track dozens of new schools.

“Our longstanding concern about preserving the independence and autonomy of charter schools that has been so critical to their success remains a concern,” Lasher said.

A Department of Education spokesman, Frank Thomas, explained today that the department supports opportunities for all parents to get involved, no matter what kind of school they attend. But he suggested that installing charter school parents on CECs could undermine a movement that has been based on separation from the traditional district school bureaucracy.

“We want to see all parents of public school children — whether they attend a charter or a non-charter school — get more involved, and applaud the Charter Center for pursuing this goal,” Thomas said in a statement. “At the same time, real autonomy has been critical to the success of the city’s public charter schools, and we would not want to erode that independence and inadvertently give those pushing an anti-charter agenda the power to throw up more roadblocks.”

He added, “Given these goals and concerns, we will follow the discussion in Albany and reserve judgment on this legislation.”

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