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Senate Republicans push proposal that could add city charters without raising cap

Aspire students work on a project in March 2015. The four Aspire Memphis schools will transition to a new, independent charter organization.
Aspire students work on a project in March 2015. The four Aspire Memphis schools will transition to a new, independent charter organization.
J. Zubrzycki

Senate Republicans are now pushing a proposal that would increase the number of charter schools allowed to open in New York City without raising the state’s overall cap on charter schools.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan reintroduced a mayoral control bill late Sunday night that would keep the state’s cap at its current 460 schools, but eliminate the geographic restrictions on the more than 130 still-available charters, meaning they could open in New York City. The plan offers a middle path for lawmakers reluctant to raise the overall cap, though the Assembly will likely be reluctant to back the proposal.

The bill amends an earlier proposal from the Senate, and adds new language requiring the city to provide “data, estimates and statistics regarding all matters relating to the city district.” The previous bill would also have raised the statewide charter-school cap by 100 schools.

Still, Assembly Democrats — who have to sign off on any final deal — and their allies Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city teachers union will find little to like in the Senate’s amended proposal, which would extend mayoral control of city schools by just one year and require the city to provide more education data to the state. De Blasio and the Assembly are seeking a three-year extension without such strings attached, and the mayor has said the cap does not need to be raised.

“Certainly this is not the year to raise a cap on the schools when we continue to have questions as to how they’re administered,” said Catherine Nolan, who chairs the Assembly’s education committee.

The bill’s reemergence shows that charter schools continue to be a top education priority for Senate Republicans, even if few represent districts with charter schools. The Senate was a major supporter of last year’s push to secure facilities funding for charters in New York City, and the pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY spent $4.2 million to help Republicans hold onto power during last year’s election.

The proposal reflects the fact that the charter sector has grown much faster in New York City than it has statewide. New York City is home to 197 of the state’s 248 charter schools, and is the home base for a few rapidly expanding charter-school networks, including Success Academy, whose founder Eva Moskowitz has nearly 50 schools open or approved to open and has said she wants to open another 50 in 10 years. Growth outside of the city hasn’t been as rapid — since 2010, just 13 of 103 new charters have gone to districts outside of the city.

The Senate bill would also require that the charters for schools that have been closed “be returned to the statewide pool,” which would effectively raise the state’s cap by more than 20 charters. The bill also puts no restrictions on how many charters each of the state’s two authorizers, SUNY and the Board of Regents, can give out.

That could offer more freedom to groups applying to open a charter school in New York City, since all but one of the up to 25 New York City charters still left under the current cap are assigned to the Board of Regents. Northeast Charter Schools Network Kyle Rosenkrans said charter leaders are concerned about last month’s rejection of 15 charter school applications by the State Education Department, which the Regents supervises, along with recent changes to the makeup of the Board of Regents.

“I think there are concerns about the long-term commitment from the current Board of Regents to charter schools as a strategy for improving education,” Rosenkrans said, explaining why charter applicants might be more eager to apply for a charter from SUNY.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly characterized one of the changes to the mayoral control portion of the bill’s updated version.

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