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Charter advocates, and their critics, prepare for annual lobby day

Charter school advocates met with lawmakers in Albany in 2013. They plan to repeat the effort on Tuesday.
Charter school advocates met with lawmakers in Albany in 2013. They plan to repeat the effort on Tuesday.
Geoff Decker

Charter school supporters are heading to Albany Tuesday for their annual advocacy day, and the city teachers union is already trying to head off their arguments.

More than 1,400 parents and school leaders are traveling to the state capital to make their case for increased funding and legislative support at a time when charter schools are in a precarious position at home in New York City. Last week, the de Blasio administration announced plans to reassign $210 million earmarked for charter school construction to create pre-kindergarten seats instead — marking the first time that the new mayor turned his critical rhetoric into a policy proposal.

In Albany, charter school advocates will lobby lawmakers, who will include legislators from the charter-rich areas in the Bronx and Harlem, to let their schools receive state funds to operate pre-K programs. The proposal gained little traction last year, but now Gov. Andrew Cuomo has endorsed the change. Still, its prospects are hardly assured in a legislative session in which education is shaping up to play a starring role — and if last year is any guide, parents are likely to go off-message once they get an audience with lawmakers.

But the teachers union is not taking any chances. To undercut the charter sector’s rhetoric, the United Federation of Teachers today released a research brief aimed at proving that charter schools should not receive additional state resources.

The brief collects research and reports showing that the sector as a whole serves less needy students; some operators are paid more than the city schools chancellor; and some schools have high suspension and student attrition numbers. It also takes aim at charter schools’ claims of extreme demand, pointing out that many New York City schools maintain wait lists and families here know that they will not necessarily get in to every school to which they apply.

And it includes union president Michael Mulgrew’s suggestions for creating a “level playing field” between charter and district schools, first outlined in an op-ed last month in the New York Daily News. Those suggestions include ensuring that charter schools serve high-need students at the same rate as other schools, which by law they are supposed to do already, and capping charter operators’ pay.

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