In the same week Gov. David Paterson proposed cutting aid to public schools by 5 percent, the state Legislature failed to take action that would have made it possible for the state to receive $700 million in federal “Race to the Top” education grants.
To qualify for the federal funds, the Legislature would have had to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state from 200 to 460. New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, is opposed to the charter schools, which employ non-union teachers. The legislators lack the courage to stand up to this union.
The union and other critics claim the charter schools siphon off the best and brightest students, leaving the most vulnerable children behind. But is admission to charter schools is based on a lottery system that makes inclusion in these schools available to all children.
To this the union counters that the brighter students come from homes where parents are more involved in their child’s education. But that argument implies more involved parents prefer charter schools because they believe they do a better job. If that is the case, why not welcome more charter schools, especially if the federal government is paying?
Charter schools are popular. At present there are 36,000 students on the waiting list for charter schools. It is difficult to imagine how the Legislature could turn its back on $700 million in education funding.
The Legislature can reserve the right for the city and state to set standards for these schools and tests can measure whether or not students are receiving a quality education. A recent study by Stanford University shows New York City charter school students are outperforming their public school peers in reading and math. By qualifying for the grant and lifting the cap, the city and state would have more money to improve the quality of public schools.
The bottom line is this is an offer the state should not refuse. There is still a chance New York can still qualify for federal funding by raising the cap on charter schools by a June deadline. Failing to do so would be foolish.