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SUNY Chair Merryl Tisch Is Right: It’s Time to Lift the Cap on NYC Charter Schools

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SUNY Chair Merryl Tisch Is Right: It’s Time to Lift the Cap on NYC Charter Schools

New York Post May 6, 2021
EducationPre K-12

SUNY Chair Merryl Tisch is among the advocates urging state lawmakers to lift the cap on charter schools in NYC.

Merryl Tisch, the chairwoman of the State University of New York, is calling on the state Legislature to lift the cap that prevents more charter schools from opening in New York City. Let’s all hope lawmakers listen to her voice of reason and drop their ideological opposition to the expansion of educational opportunity to low-income children of color in Gotham’s most underserved communities.

Though they mean little to the ideological zealots in the Legislature, the facts are well-known. Before the pandemic, more than 1 in 5 black students in the city were enrolled in charters, as were close to 1 in 10 Hispanic students. Combined, black and Hispanic students formed more than 90 percent of the students enrolled in city charters. 

Despite these numbers, and the overwhelming and unfulfilled demand for charter seats, the Legislature has halted the expansion of these schools under a false premise: namely, that charter parents are somehow harming the public-school system by seeking better educational outcomes for their children.

When lawmakers first enacted the state’s charter-school law in 1998, a political compromise between the then-GOP-led Senate and the Democratic-led Assembly capped the number of charters that could be authorized, with separate caps for New York City and the rest of the state.

At the time, the notion of charter schools was still somewhat new, and there were unanswered questions about the impact they would have. In the city, charters proved to be wildly popular among black and Hispanic families. Soon, many more students were applying to charters than could be accommodated in the existing ones.

Under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the city responded to this demand and supported the creation of new charters. When the city was approaching the limit in years past, it pushed the Legislature to raise the cap, which did happen. Today, 267 charters operate in the city, serving more than 135,000 students, 13 percent of all public-school students.

In March 2019, the city reached its state-imposed arbitrary cap on the number of allowed charters.  Despite continued high demand — three applications for every charter school seat in Harlem and the South Bronx — the Legislature, now completely in the hands of the Democrats, has steadfastly refused to raise this cap, denying poor families the opportunities they seek. 

Have charter schools harmed traditional public schools? Absolutely not. In the years of charter growth, the overall budget, per-pupil spending and test scores of traditional public schools all increased. This, even as charters greatly outperformed the traditional schools on the state tests, dramatically so for black and Hispanic students.

In fact, the gap between white and minority student test scores is smaller in the charter sector than in the traditional district schools. Success Academies — the city’s largest charter network, with more than 17,000 students and an average family income of $49,800 — outperforms every public district in New York on the state exams, including the many incredibly wealthy suburban school districts, where household incomes are three to five times greater than those in the Success schools.

Charters achieve these results with public funding that is lower than that provided to traditional schools, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. Many charters, particularly Success Academies, have mounted remote-learning programs that much more adequately replicate a normal school day than that of the city’s district schools. 

Despite their higher achievement and more responsive organization, they have earned the hostility of the state’s elected officials. The political blockade at the schoolhouse door, barring parents desperate for greater educational opportunity, is shameful. It is time for it to end. The state’s cap on the number of charter schools in the city should end. Now.

This piece originally appeared at the New York Post


Ray Domanico is a senior fellow and director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute.

Photo by kali9/iStock