The Regents have not approved a new charter school for Albany in more than five years, when they approved the KIPP Tech Valley Charter School in 2004, which was previously approved by the SUNY Board. Until today, only three of Albany's charter schools got the blessing of the Regents, with the other two being the Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys and the Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls. These latter two schools were approved directly by the Regents back in 2000 as their answer to SUNY's approval of the ever-dismal New Covenant Charter School.
For the last five years, the Regents refused to approve any new charter schools in Albany, but they've opened nonetheless because of SUNY's ability to override the Regents' refusal and proceed.
SUNY's statutory ability to override the Regents came under fresh attack this year when the new Chancellor of the Regents, Merryl Tisch, publicly came out for legislation to strip SUNY of this power to approve charters on its own (see here for more discussion). The Senate sponsor of this legislation since "withdrew" her bill, effectively killing any chances of enactment.
One of the issues that came out of this debate on multiple charter authorizers, that is, Regents and SUNY, was the Regents' periodic hostility to charter schools, which has been ramped up in recent years. The non-approvals in Albany are a good example, hence, the importance of an alternative charter authorizer like SUNY.
Now, all of sudden, the Regents decide to approve a new charter school for Albany in complete disregard of the recurring opposition of the school district and teachers' union, which they otherwise heeded for five years. Even Regent James Dawson, a reliable "no" vote on charter schools, went along today and voted yes.
On the merits, the first public all-girl high school for Albany is a no-brainer. The Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls is a small, safe alternative to the Albany High School; which is a low-performing, unsafe place with a high drop-out rate and a low percentage of students graduating on time with Regents diplomas. And, the city already has a similar single-gender charter high school for boys, the Green Tech High Charter School. The new Charter High School for Girls will have a 200-day school year, and is partnering with the Young Women's Leadership Foundation, which supports highly-successful all-girl public schools in New York City.
Perhaps the Regents decided to lay aside politics and union and district opposition pressure and follow the merits by approving the charter school.
Regents' Ulterior Motive?
On the other hand (or in addition to the merits), I suspect the Regents would like to eschew their reputation as unfriendly to charter schools, and this was a first step in that direction. The immediate concern may be Washington: for New York to get due consideration for the federal "Race to the Top" funding, U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan is sending word that hostility to charter schools doesn't sit well.
More long term, I suspect the Regents ultimately want control of chartering in New York. They don't like SUNY's role and never have. Chancellor Tisch was most obvious and public about this position, but she represents the long-standing view of the Regents. They've recently had to take a step back, but after another year or two of friendly moves on charters, the Regents may revisit the multiple authorizer issue in the state legislature and try and obviate the role of SUNY.
Whatever the motive of the Regents today, they did right by Albany Leadership Charter High School, and the Albany female students who will be the beneficiaries.
for The Chalkboard
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