Faso Presses Issue of Charter Schools, Saying Spitzer Failed To Take a Stand

Date: June 27, 2006
Location: Albany, NY
Issues: K-12 Education

Faso Presses Issue of Charter Schools, Saying Shitzer Failed To Take a Stand

The Republican Party's candidate for governor of New York, John Faso, is faulting his Democratic opponent, Eliot Spitzer, for not taking a more vocal stand in favor of charter schools.

Mr. Faso, a former assemblyman running on a conservative platform, is accusing New York's attorney general of being missing in action at a critical point for the charter school movement - when lawmakers last week were considering a bill backed by Governor Pataki that would have more than doubled the number of such schools allowed in the state.

"He's been rather quiescent," Mr. Faso told The New York Sun. "He himself said you don't accomplish anything by whispering. Those who care about academic achievement in the state should be out there beating the drums supporting charter schools."

A measure to raise the cap on the schools was supported by the Republican-controlled Senate but died in the Democrat-led Assembly, which rejected a last-minute deal by the governor that would have provided a lucrative early retirement package for public teachers and an extra $96 million for welfare-to-work programs in exchange for support of the bill.

Lawmakers have attempted to bypass the deal by submitting to the governor a separate retirement package for teachers 55 and older and with 25 years of service that isn't linked to charter schools. Mr. Pataki can veto the measure.

By rejecting an expansion of charter schools before they adjourned for the year, lawmakers handed the contentious issue to the next governor.

For the speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, postponing the debate until next year comes with certain advantages. If Mr. Spitzer is elected in November and pushes for more charter schools, Mr. Silver may be more inclined to cross the teachers unions, which oppose more charter schools, because a Democratic governor would be leading the charge.

On a number of issues, Mr. Spitzer played a behind-the-scenes and public role during the end-of-session budget negotiations.

He pushed for the Assembly to back legislation creating a more comprehensive criminal DNA database and called for lawmakers to pass a bill that would give incentives for whistleblowers to sue the government over Medicaid fraud.

Mr. Spitzer has said he supports charter schools, which receive public funding but operate independently of local school boards, but says he has concerns about their financial impact on school districts.

A spokeswoman for the Spitzer campaign, Christine Anderson, said Mr. Spitzer favors a higher cap, but "only in the context of addressing the legitimate concerns of those districts upstate that have a high percentage of their enrollment in charter schools."

School districts in New York lose about $8,000 to $9,000 - roughly two thirds of the per-pupil amount they spend - when a students transfers to a charter school.

A portion of the remaining third is spent on providing transportation and educational materials to charter students.
In New York City, the money redistributed to charter schools is a drop in the bucket of a system that serves more than 1 million public students. But in upstate districts like Buffalo, where 10% of the students are enrolled in charter schools, budgets have taken more of a hit. Charter school advocates contend that competition for resources drives up the overall quality of the public school system.

The Spitzer campaign would not say how Mr. Spitzer would address the concerns of the school districts, though state lawmakers have floated bills that would give those most affected extra money.

The campaign would not say how many more charter schools Mr. Spitzer thinks ought to be authorized.

Lawmakers limited the number to 100 when they first approved the schools in 1998. Mr. Pataki proposed lifting the statewide cap to 250, while allowing New York City to establish an unlimited number of charters. The measure would have also given the city's schools chancellor the power to approve 50 charters without authorization from the New York State Board of Regents.

There are 79 charter schools operating in the state, serving more than 22,000 students, and 21 more set to open in the fall. New York City has 47 schools and will have 12 new ones in the fall.

New York City has recommended that an additional 15 schools open in the fall of 2007, but those openings will be delayed for at least a year unless the Legislature returns for a special session and approves a higher cap.

Without a higher cap, the options are limited for charter school advocates. In certain cases, charter boards, with permission from the Board of Regents or the SUNY board of trustees, may establish more schools without obtaining an additional charter.

Under state statutes, charter boards can open a new school in a different site under the same charter as long as the students enrolled are not in overlapping grades. For instance, the Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, which serves K-8, is starting a high school in the fall at a different location.

"We don't look at it as a really promising model for growth," a spokesman for New York's Department of Education, David Cantor, said.