Barbara Lifton; not to be confused with Lipton of Mod Squad Fame
There is a Better Way to Deal with This
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton doesn't like charter schools, and wants you to know it.
The New Roots Charter School, approved by the State University to open in August, will locate in Ithaca, in the heart of Ms. Lifton's assembly district.
Assemblywoman Lifton was a member of the New York State United Teachers, the Ithaca Teachers Association, the PTA and the Ithaca Hockey Boosters (a "Hockey Mom?!"). This establishment background usually doesn't square with charter schools, so it's not shocking to find her in opposition to New Roots.
Fortunately for public schools, the approval process has been mostly free of politics. Hence, the determination was made that the New Roots Charter School fulfilled the purposes of the Charter Schools Act and thus worthy of approval.
Now, Assemblywoman Lifton has introduced a bill, A.6447 (actually, copied a Senate proposal) to legislatively revoke the New Roots charter before it opens.
Assemblywoman Lifton: call your lawyers. The U.S. Constitution - Article I, section 10 to be exact - prohibits states from "impairing the obligation of contracts." That is what a charter is - a legally binding contract between SUNY and the charter school's founders.
A little thing like the constitution isn't going to prevent a legislator from introducing a bill to violate it. It happens, but they don't get far in the process. Ironically, Ms. Lifton is usually a more measured legislator by, for example, fighting to keep the local Workers' Compensation office open or advocating on behalf of the mentally ill.
What is further poisonous about this, if enacted, is that it also would prevent 29 other approved charter schools from opening elsewhere in the state, mostly in New York City, to the chagrin of many of her fellow legislators.
There is a better way.
In 2007 the state doubled the number of charter schools allowed and with it, provided extra school aid to districts with new charters or added charter enrollment. Assemblywoman Lifton voted for this bill, which actually was part of the state education budget so it contained dozens of other provisions.
If New Roots Charter School attracts approximately 110 Ithaca students, or 2 percent of the district's public school enrollment, it will generate another $1 million in state aid on a lag basis to offset 80 percent of the charter expenses. This funding will be the topping on the state aid already generated by charter students since they remain in the Ithaca's school aid count.
Conversely, if the charter school only gets 100 Ithaca students, slightly below the 2 percent threshold, kiss that extra million goodbye in 2010 since the district won't qualify.
State school aid, and transition aid, deliberately cushions the impact of the charter school on school districts, whether the Ithaca schools superintendant acknowledges it or not. Assemblywoman Lifton would be more productive to get increased state aid to Ithaca, including transition aid, which would be a win-win for her constituents being served by the district and the charter school alike.
It's a better solution than introducing an unconstitutional bill that would do harm to thousands of students statewide.
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