Charter School Funding Survives Legislative SessionDecember 1st, 2010
By Thomas W. Carroll
Governor David Paterson called the state legislature back to Albany earlier this week to approve several bills and dozens of appointments before his term expires at the end of December.
The most significant piece of the Governor’s agenda was to cut more than $300 million from the current 2010-11 state budget to address a current deficit and to allocate more than $600 million in one-time federal education funding for school districts – the so-called “edujobs” funding.
Tucked away in the Governor’s legislative agenda, however, was a substantial cut in funding for charter schools that would have rolled per-pupil funding back to levels from two years ago, those paid for the 2008-09 school year. Last year, during the 2009-10 school year, charters had been “frozen” at these prior-year funding levels, but this freeze expired when the current school year began.
Both the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) and school boards across the state, particularly in Albany and Buffalo, were pushing hard for the legislature to approve the bill to cut charter funding retroactively. This move would have steered the money due to charter schools instead to the districts’ coffers.
The argument why charter school funding shouldn’t be separately “frozen” or cut is straightforward: charters receive money based on a percentage (typically around two-thirds) of how much school districts spend per pupil. When district spending goes up, charters get more; when district spending drops, charter funding correspondingly and automatically declines based on the formula prescribed in law. With school districts lowering their spending as a result state cutbacks, charter schools are seeing their formula funding reduced automatically. The proposed funding cutback to levels from two years ago unfairly compounds the problem.
In a somewhat surprising move, the Senate Majority Democrats attempted to bring to the Senate floor the Governor’s bill that included the charter school funding freeze. For charter schools in the Albany School District, the bill would have cut current charter school per-pupil funding by more than $2,000 per student.
The bill to cut charter funding was voted out of both the Senate Finance and Rules committees (the latter committee being the last stop before a floor vote by the full Senate). Democrats on both committees voted for this bill while Republicans voted against it.
The Democrats who voted “yes” on these committee votes (a vote that was anti-charter) included: Neil Breslin, Martin Malave’ Dilan; Thomas Duane; Ruth Hassell-Thompson; Jeff Klein; Liz Krueger; Carl Kruger; Velma Montgomery; Suzi Oppenheimer; Kevin Parker; Jose Peralta; Bill Perkins; Jose Serrano; Malcolm Smith; Bill Stachowski; Toby Ann Stavisky; Andrea Stewart-Cousins; Antoine Thompson; and David Valesky.
Later in the evening, however, it became clear that the Senate Democratic leadership did not have the required 32 votes to pass this measure on the floor of the State Senate. At least one Democrat was missing from the Capitol, others remained opposed, and all the Republicans were expected to vote no.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the state Capitol, the state Assembly took no action on this bill.
This favorable outcome for charter schools means that, as a practical matter, the funding “freeze” is now a dead issue – for the moment, at least.
The experience this week in the legislature underscores several key issues:
(1) The state teachers union, despite their occasionally soothing rhetoric, continues to work overtime to do anything it can to curtail or defund charter schools, (even while they attempt to unionize charter school faculty for union dues revenue to itself).
(2) The Albany school board, lead by Dan Egan, continues to press for cutting charter school funding even though Albany’s current charter funding level of $14,000 per pupil is substantially lower than the more than $20,000 per pupil spent by the district. Similar, unequal funding gaps exist in Buffalo, Rochester and other school districts with charters.
(3) Charter school supporters, including parents, staff and other community members all need to remain vigilant in advocating on behalf of charter schools and need to keep up the pressure on the state’s elected officials. In the current political environment, simply operating good schools is not enough. Advocacy is crucial.
The full legislature is unlikely to return for the remainder of this calendar year, but such things change quickly and the funding freeze could be brought up again before the end of the year. On January 1st, a new governor takes office. Based on current recounts in two remaining state Senate seats, the pro-charter Senate Republicans likely will add at least one more that would bring their total to 32 of the 62-seat chamber and thus majority control of the Senate.
For now, thanks are due to the New York Charter Schools Association, the Democrats for Education Reform, and Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos for their work to defeat this anti-charter school bill.
Thomas W. Carroll is president of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability and may be followed on Twitter at @nyedreform.