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Charter school leaders on last-minute lobbying spree as budget details emerge

Updated 3:50 p.m. Just hours before the state legislature is required to sign off on a budget, charter school leaders are frantically mobilizing against parts of a proposed compromise deal that would give some of their schools additional funds.

The tentative deal increases charter school per-pupil funding by $500 over three years, a 3.6 percent increase. But advocates say they wanted a larger increase more in line with what New York City district schools are projected to receive over the same period. Now, that debate could be one of the only sticking points standing in the way of a final state spending plan.

In an “emergency” email message, New York City Charter School Center James Merriman told advocates that that the lag in funding “would cause serious hardship to schools and the children they serve.” He urged school leaders to call their Assembly representatives and ask them to lobby Silver to increase their funding.

The proposed compromise would also mean that new charter schools, or schools that are adding grades, would receive money to operate in private space if the city can’t or won’t give them public space. But funding for schools currently operating in public space was taken off the table, upsetting advocates for charter schools outside of New York City that have never been offered space inside district school buildings.

The Northeast Charter Schools Network has been tweeting for people to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office and ask that he push to extend that offer of facilities aid to charter schools operating in private space.

“[D]on’t sell out #Buffalo in the Albany horsetrade,” tweeted Eric Klapper, chief operating officer of the Tapestry Charter School network in Buffalo.

Meanwhile, charter school leaders in New York City have privately grumbled on Friday that the deal would mainly benefit charter school management organizations with the means to grow, providing little to independent charter schools already paying rent. Some singled out the Success Academy charter school network in particular.

Despite the charter sector’s complaints, groups lobbying against more state resources for charter schools also see the deal as loss, calling the deal overly beneficial to Success Academy.

“We are in danger of New York State turning over the keys to our public school buildings to charter school corporations,” New York Communities for Change Deputy Director Gregory Basta wrote in an email to members, referring specifically to one “run by Eva Moskowitz.”

New details of the plan have also emerged today. A source said the deal would include giving auditing authority over charter schools to Comptroller Scott Stringer. The change to the state charter school law would also authorize the state comptroller to audit charter schools outside of the city, the source said.

This morning, Speaker Sheldon Silver told reporters that charter schools were part of ongoing discussions that have kept an agreement from being announced.

“I didn’t come to do a press conference,” said Silver, making a rare pass through the area of the Capitol building where reporters work. “It’s all on the table. Everything’s on the table.”

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