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Voters remain divided on charter schools

Rob Bennett for the Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio

New Yorkers remain divided on whether the city needs more charter schools.

According to the data released Wednesday, 43 percent of voters support increasing the number of charter schools. Less than one in five voters, 17 percent, favored reducing the number of charter schools, while 31 percent said the number of charter schools should remain the same.

That’s according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, which asked more than 1,000 voters earlier this month about a range of issues around education, crime, and Mayor Bill de Blasio. It’s the second part of the poll; the first, released yesterday, showed that Schools Chancellor Fariña’s popularity climbed eight percentage points since March.

In March, 40 percent of voters said they supported an increase in the number of charter schools, while 14 percent favored decreasing the number of charter schools and 39 percent said the number of charter schools should stay the same.

The state’s current cap will allow 28 more charter schools to open in the city. Charter-school supporters have made lifting the charter school cap a major legislative priority for next spring, and have found allies among the state’s most influential policymakers.

State Board of Regent Chancellor Merryl Tisch recently said on the John Catsimatidis radio show she would like to “aggressively” increase the number of charter schools and lift the existing cap. Mayor Bill de Blasio has held firm in his opposition to an increase, and at a Politico Playbook Breakfast on Wednesday, the mayor said his focus remains elsewhere.

Charter schools are “in large measure addressing a crisis that is a crisis of traditional public education,” de Blasio said during the program. “Why don’t we go to the root of problem, and fix traditional public education?”

De Blasio’s comments prompted a terse response from James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

“For parents who don’t have the money to move to wealthy neighborhoods or who can’t navigate the dizzying complexities of screened schools, charter schools are some of the most accessible and effective public schools in New York City,” Merriman said. “Common sense tells us to expand what is working while also working hard to fix what isn’t. That’s what eliminating the artificial cap on the number of charter schools is all about.”

But Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the results indicate strong opposition to charter schools.

“Nearly half the voters surveyed (48 percent) recommend that Mayor (Bill) de Blasio either freeze the number of charter schools or actually reduce them, while only 43 percent think that the number of charters should be increased,” Mulgrew said in a statement.

The Quinnipiac poll question phrased its question as whether Mayor Bill de Blasio should change the number of charter schools, though the matter is out of his hands. The charter-school cap is set by the state legislature, and individual charter schools are authorized by state-level organizations, SUNY and the Board of Regents.

Voters’ general satisfaction with public schools remained virtually unchanged at 25 percent, while 58 percent said they dissatisfied. (Satisfaction was slightly higher in Staten Island, at 35 percent, and in Brooklyn, at 31 percent.)

School satisfaction reached its highest level in recent history in January 2009, when 32 percent of voters were satisfied with schools, and 55 percent were not satisfied. In February 2004, only 12 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the schools.

Voters were also asked whether charter schools should have to pay rent if they operate in city-owned school buildings — something the state legislature actually prohibited the city from requiring this spring. Still, 50 percent of voters polled said charter schools should be forced to pay rent, up from 44 percent of respondents polled in March.

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