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Hours left until budget deadline, New York state lawmakers squabble over charter schools

Charter school teachers, principals and staff members gather at a rally organized by Families for Excellent Schools.
Charter school teachers, principals and staff members gather at a rally organized by Families for Excellent Schools.
Monica Disare

It’s a new year, but the same old education fights are roiling Albany.

As Senators streamed into the capitol hallways Friday afternoon, they mentioned a couple of issues that remain unresolved. One is charter schools.

“It’d be fair to say that ‘Raise the Age’ and charter schools have had a significant amount of discussion,” said Senator Patrick Gallivan. “I don’t know that an agreement has been reached on either one of those.”

At the heart of the charter school debate is likely whether the state should unfreeze the charter school tuition funding formula. The formula has been frozen for years at 2010-11 levels, though charter schools have received supplemental funding increases in some years since then.

Charter advocates say the funding formula should unfreeze as planned this year. In an interview this January, James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, says any other understanding is an attempt to “reframe the debate and recast the deal.” Merriman also said Friday that charter schools do not receive their “fair share of public support and funding,” and cited figures from an Independent Budget Office report to support his claim.

The unions, however, aren’t convinced. The state and city teachers unions sent out a fact sheet calling the prospective changes a “money grab by charters.” They argue that many charter schools already have cash reserves and that unfreezing the formula would be a burden on New York City’s budget. On Friday, they sent out an estimate by the city’s Office of Management and Budget that unfreezing the formula would cost the city approximately $200 million.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also took a swipe at charter school provisions during a WNYC appearance Friday morning. When asked whether there would be any last-minute surprises in the budget, he mentioned charter schools.

“We’re watching a couple things in terms of the whacking category very carefully,” de Blasio said. “We’re watching unfair subsidies to charter schools that would take money away from our traditional public schools.”

Charter school advocates responded to the mayor’s comments, arguing that charter schools should receive the same support from de Blasio as traditional public schools.

“Charter school students are public school students, yet Mayor de Blasio insists on demonizing these kids by claiming they are draining resources from their district school peers,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter group.

Would approving this charter school funding actually do serious harm to the city’s budget?

“This alone is not likely to break the bank,” said Independent Budget Office Communications Director Doug Turetsky. “But obviously, this is an additional lift on the city’s budget.”

Lawmakers technically have until midnight Friday to pass a budget, but it’s unclear if they will have a deal by that time or if negotiations will continue into the weekend or next week.

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