On February 27, the New York State Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee held hearings on a proposal by newly elected Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) to increase the number of charter schools statewide. The plan came in Spitzer’s first budget address, delivered January 31.
Current state law allows only 100 charter schools in the state. Spitzer would like to see 250.
According to the Center for Education Reform, a Washington, DC-based research organization, New York currently operates 95 charter schools, serving approximately 3,000 of the state’s 2.9 million public school students.
New York passed legislation allowing charter schools in 1998. Charter schools are public schools that have been freed from some of the regulations that ordinarily govern them, in order to produce the results stipulated in their respective mission statements, or charters.
In his inaugural address on January 3, Spitzer identified three initiatives for improving education, including adding charters.
“Not only must we invest in what we know works today, we must continuously experiment with new approaches,” Spitzer said. “Charter schools can play a critical role here.”
Later in January, during a speech at the State Education Building, Spitzer elaborated.
“Charter schools have an important role to play in achieving education excellence,” Spitzer said. “Charter schools help demonstrate educational innovations that work, many of which can be adapted to other parts of the public school system. Charter schools make other public schools compete, which is why many strong school administrators welcome their presence.”
The New York City United Federation of Teachers, a local union, deemed Spitzer’s call for more charters “anti-educational” and “opportunistic” in a January 31 news release. And in a January 16 letter to Spitzer posted on its Web site, the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA) said, “with respect to charter schools we respectfully disagree with your plan to expand the experiment without first conducting a comprehensive study [of charters].”
The NYSSBA claimed charter schools have shown only mixed results, selectively take and keep students, and suffer from inadequate oversight. According to the letter, the NYSSBA wants charters to be approved by local school districts instead of trustees or regents of the State University of New York, the current practice.
Brian Carpenter, chief executive officer of the National Charter School Institute, a research group affiliated with Central Michigan University, had a different reaction.
“Governor Spitzer should be applauded by everyone who appreciates that the charter school sector is clearly the trend for improving public education,” said Carpenter. “His actions show that he intends New York to be a leader [in charter schools].”
Michael Coulter ([email protected]) writes from Pennsylvania.
For more information …
“Charter Schools Today: Changing the Face of American Education,” edited by Jeanne Allen and Shaka Mitchell and published in February 2006 by the Center for Education Reform, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for document #20766.