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Cuomo lends support to solving charter school space issue with legislation

Two days after promising to “save charter schools” at a rally in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said today that he is considering a legislative solution for New York City’s charter school space issues.

For years, New York City has let many charter schools share space without paying rent in public school buildings under a policy known as co-location. New Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged during his campaign to rein in co-location, and last week he announced that of the dozens of plans approved under the Bloomberg administration, he would stop nine from moving forward, including three involving charter schools.

Co-location is a “technical issue” with several possible solutions, Cuomo said during an appearance on the Capitol Pressroom radio show today. He emphasized the role of charter schools as engines of educational innovation and said he was already speaking with lawmakers about how to ensure that the schools can operate without being crippled by rent costs.

“The question becomes, what should the criteria for co-location be? And If you’re against co-location, then what’s the alternative for a charter school?” Cuomo asked. “Because charter schools don’t get reimbursed for rent or capital money. So that’s a question that has to be answered and it has to be answered legislatively.”

Whether Cuomo will have sufficient support from legislators to change the state’s charter schools law is unclear. Several leading legislators, including the two heads of the Senate, appeared with him at the charter school rally.

But Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose support is crucial to pushing bills through the Assembly, said on Wednesday that he did not think targeting charter school space issues was a top priority.

“When you want to talk about school construction, there are children who are sitting in trailers for years because we don’t have the physical facilities to put them into buildings,” Silver said. “We should talk about those children first.”

Cuomo’s comments came as a full-page ad appeared in the New York Times to call attention to the co-location issue. The ad, placed by Families for Excellent Schools, the charter advocacy group that organized Tuesday’s rally, features every student at Harlem Central Middle School, which de Blasio said last week could not expand as planned in public space.

The 194 students at Harlem Central are the only ones negatively affected by de Blasio’s charter schools policies so far. The other two charter school co-locations that de Blasio canceled were for Success Academy schools that have not yet admitted any students.

Meanwhile, de Blasio made his own radio appearance, on Hot 97, to defend his approach to charter schools. “Of course we’re going to work with the charter schools, and there’s a lot of very good charter schools, but we’re going to treat them … the same way we treat traditional public schools,” he said, echoing comments he made on the campaign trail and more recently. “We’re not going to favor them the way the Bloomberg administration did.”