Strengthening NY's Educational System: Senate Passes Legislation To Increase Number of Charter Schools & Enact New Accountability Standards

 

As part of its efforts to enhance New York’s ability to receive federal funding in Phase II of the Race to the Top competition, the State Senate passed legislation (S.7678) to increase the charter school cap and strengthen educational reforms through greater transparency, accountability and educational opportunities for special needs students.
 
The Senate’s legislation raises the cap on charter schools in the state from 200 to 460, shared between the State University of New York, the Board of Regents and local school districts, and provides that revoked charter schools will no longer count against the cap.
 
The increased oversight of charter school facilities applies to their financial, operational and management programs. Additionally,  the legislation encourages their most successful practices be shared and replicated, with the Board of Regents responsible for recommending these practices within public school districts.
 
“Nothing is more important than investing in our children’s education and our future. We need to improve our score for Race to the Top, just as we need to increase accountability for charter schools and expand educational opportunities for all of our children,” said Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson.
 
“Few things incite such passion as the education of our children,” Senate President Pro Tempore Malcolm A. Smith said. “ Raising the charter school cap will put New York in a more competitive position to receive the much needed $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding.  This legislation gives us the unique opportunity to offer parents educational opportunities for their children they might not otherwise have.”
 
“As witnessed in New York City under mayoral control, charter schools have proven to be an effective and welcome shot in the arm by providing fresh choices to historically under-served communities. Most often, they have demonstrated that with greater responsibility and accountability, children are given the expanded opportunities they need and deserve. By increasing the number of charter schools throughout our state, we also increase the likelihood that thousands more students will meet success,” said State Senator and Deputy Majority Leader Jeffrey D. Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester)
 
"This is vital legislation that advances education reform in New York, but more importantly will bring this state one step closer to qualifying for up to $700 million in federal Race to the Top funds," said Senator Craig M. Johnson. "In these difficult times, we should be doing everything in our power to secure this funding -- 99 percent of which will go toward traditional public schools."
 
Senator Rubén Díaz (D-Bronx) said, “Children are our future and we must put them first. In my Bronx community, people depend on the schools to provide their children with a proper education so their futures are brighter. Expanding the cap on charter schools and empowering parents with choices regarding their child’s education gives these children hope. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to vote for this important bill.”
 
Enhancing the Public’s Trust in Charter Schools:
The legislation establishes uniformity and oversight in the lottery and application process to ensure every child receives a fair chance for acceptance and not allow that process to be corrupted.
 
The state Commissioner of Education will create a common student application for all charter schools which will be made available in languages predominant in the local community served by any of these schools.
 
The Senate Majority’s legislation also requires all charter board members meet the very same conflict-of-interest and ethical obligations which public school board members must currently adhere.
 
To build on accountability of charter schools, the bill:

  • Compels, for the first time, that charter school boards conduct public meetings at the facility.
  • Establishes that the duration of a charter shall be five instructional years (in addition to the time between the approval of the charter and the opening of the school for instruction).
  • Mandates that at the time of application for renewal, schools must demonstrate the steps they have taken to recruit and retain students at-risk of educational failure.
  • Requires charter schools to make their annual reports more widely available to the public through posting on the school's website, distribution to the local newspapers and availability at charter school board meetings.
  • States these annual reports to include information regarding the charter school's efforts to recruit and retain high-need students during the previous school year and their plans to attract, recruit and retain such students in the coming year.
  • Institutes the standard that any school closure must be detailed in the state Education Department’s annual charter school report, complete with reasoning for such closure.

 
The legislation also provides Boards Of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) with the authority to contract with education management companies, on a non-aidable basis, which will strengthen access for students at charters to special educational programs while boosting BOCES resources.