Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Charter School RFP Proposal Should Be DOA

It's a Race to the Bottom in the New York State Legislature.

The Assembly Democratic Majority came out today with a proposal to change the approval process for new charter schools by having the state Education Department, which is accountable to the Board of Regents, issue a request for proposals for charters. Rather than charter school applications being prepared and submitted by applicant groups from anywhere in the state, this proposal will leave it to the Regents and state Education Department to decide who gets to submit an application for a new charter school and from where.

This proposal, no doubt proffered at the behest of the teacher unions and their legislative allies, would make a complete mockery of chartering in New York. Actually, it would stifle it to the point that few, if any, charter schools will ever surface. That is precisely the union leadership's objective.

Word is that many Senate Democrats are playing along with this farce of a proposal. It is that, or they are being played by the Assembly. Either way, it's a bad sign and they should reconsider.

Centralized Planning for Charter Schools
At this posting, I have not seen this proposal in writing, nor has any bill language surfaced. Therefore, details are somewhat sketchy. Conceptually, however, this proposal would bring top-down control of chartering by politicians and the bureaucracy, rather than bottom-up from the grassroots and community level, which has been so successful for thousands of students and their families across the state.

This throwback, centralized planning approach to chartering, in effect, doesn't make them charter schools any more but something else entirely. This is suppose to get New York $700 million from Race to the Top?

SUNY and NYC Schools Chancellor Getting the Shaft
This so-called RFP proposal would effectively eliminate as charter authorizers the State University of New York and the New York City Schools Chancellor. The SUNY Board of Trustees are appointed by the Governor, while the Chancellor is appointed by the Mayor. So, this charter proposal is clearly aimed right between the eyes of Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg, neither of whom is a favorite in the legislature.

More than one charter authorizer in New York has meant more and higher quality charters for students. That's the rub. SUNY's authorizing power has been a sore spot for charter school opponents from the beginning when the Charter Schools Act was first approved. Yet SUNY has been a national example in quality charter school authorizing, including establishing a rigorous accountability and oversight system which, on balance, is more sensible than anything coming out the Regents in recent years. Quality authorizing also has meant quality schools, as was confirmed with the recent CREDO study from Stanford University that found that most SUNY-authorized charters in New York City academically outperformed the remaining charters. These facts should count for something in the legislature. At the moment, they don't matter a whit.

And what of Mayoral control of New York City's schools? Charter schools have been one of Mayor Bloomberg's major policy reform initiatives. Enactment of an RFP process for chartering under the complete control of the state Education Department would stifle the Mayor's role in chartering. Done.

Can't Have Too Many Charters
An RFP requirement for submitting a charter school proposal controlled by State Ed. also would serve to limit any new charter schools where the politicians don't want them. For the thousands of their own constituent families that do want more charter school opportunities? Too bad for them, is the message from this idea. Areas like Harlem, Buffalo and Albany and parts of Brooklyn have proportionately more charter schools because the education failure in these areas had been rampant for years, with the district school system's malpractice going unchecked.

Charter schools in these areas have shown impressive test scores and narrowed the racial achievement gap. Yet what do we here from the teacher unions and certain politicians? We got "too many" charter schools! And now, this RFP proposal is their brazen attempt to put a stop to charters once and for all. That still thousands of students remain on waiting lists for these schools is lost on too many politicians.

Race to the Top in Jeopardy
If the charter RFP proposal gets approved by the state legislature, which is uncertain at this posting, Gov. Paterson should refuse to go along with this fiction and veto it. This idea would shackle chartering in New York, and cost valuable points on New York's Race to the Top application. A charter cap lift that goes along with this RFP idea would fool no one, especially the Feds, who will decide on Race to the Top grants.

It's very clear the teacher unions don't want Race to the Top funding if the price is real reform and accountability in public education. If the legislature continues to advance this sham proposal for charter RFPs, they will make New York a national embarrassment. Assuming the legislature remains interested in $700 million in new federal education funding, they should ditch this RFP idea fast, and get serious about enacting the Regents reform agenda.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard

Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.