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In shift, Silver says budget talks involve money for charters “all over the state”

ALBANY — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said today for the first time that he is open to providing facilities funds to privately housed charter schools “all over the state.”

One of the ideas being discussed in behind-closed-doors legislative negotiations, he said, is allowing charter schools to receive state funds to plug some of the budget gap associated with paying to operate in their own buildings.

“We’re talking about providing some form of money to allow that to happen all over the state,” Silver said after leaving a budget meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate co-leaders Dean Skelos and Jeff Klein.

He added that the “issue of tuition” was another thing being discussed, perhaps referring to a proposal to raise per-pupil funding for New York City charters.

Chalkbeat reported on Monday that a statewide building aid program for charter schools was likely to make it across the finish line when a final budget is set, which by law must happen by the end of the month. Other proposals to aid charter schools that the State Senate put forth are seen as less likely to move forward because they would be burdensome to local school districts, particularly New York City.

Indeed, Silver — whose leadership determines whether proposals come for a vote in the Assembly — has until now completely dismissed the Senate’s proposals, saying that they neglect the more urgent facilities issue of overcrowded New York City district schools that must house some classrooms in trailers. In the Assembly’s budget proposal, extra money is allocated to help the city eliminate the trailers.

Now, Silver’s apparent concession suggests that there is at least one pro-charter school policy change that he’s willing to support.

But he said charter schools would receive “just money” in the state budget, signaling that the Senate proposals to give protections to charter schools in public space would not get Assembly support.

Charter schools in private space must pay their rent and facilities fees out of their per-pupil funds and any private funds that they raise. In 2011, the city’s Independent Budget Office found a $2,300 per-pupil budget gap between charter schools in private space and district schools. Outside of the city, where 57 charter schools operate and where facilities costs are lower, the gap ranges from just under $1,000 to $2,000, according to a report compiled by the advocacy organization Northeast Charter Schools Network.The majority of the city’s charter schools operate in city-owned buildings, in an arrangement that charter advocates say has allowed the sector to thrive. They say the charter sector could grow in other other urban school districts — including Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, where student achievement has lagged — if charter schools there are given similar facilities support.

Critics say that giving privately managed charter schools access to extra public funds, and diverting the money away from cash-strapped district schools, would further threaten the state’s public education system.

“While out public schools are hemorrhaging programs, the Senate majority and the governor have clearly signaled that privately run charter schools that serve only 3 percent of students top the list of priorities,” Alliance for Quality Education’s Billy Easton said of the charter school proposals when they were approved two weeks ago.