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Charter school cap remains an obstacle to winning Race to the Top funding

Gov. David A. Paterson says if the state’s cap on charters had been raised and student data systems were available to use for teacher tenure, New York might have been named a third Race to the Top winner in phase one of the competition. He said changes must be made to win in round two. Photo by AP.
April 05, 2010
If New York has any hopes of winning millions in federal education funding, the state must now re-submit its application for phase two of the Race to the Top competition.

With Delaware and Tennessee named as the only two winners in phase one of the program, Gov. David A. Paterson said passing education reform legislation would have put the state in a position to win. The governor said during a conference call after the winners were announced that if the Legislature had raised the cap on charter schools and linked student performance data with teacher tenure like he had called for, New York may have been named a third winner.

The governor had originally called for the elimination of New York's charter school cap of 200, but then changed his proposal last minute in hopes of enticing lawmakers to pass reform. A cap of 454 was proposed, a number equal to one-tenth of the number of schools in the state. However, lawmakers ultimately considered legislation to raise the cap to 400.

Neither house was able to come up with an agreement by the Jan. 19 deadline and legislation was never voted on.

"I hope my legislative colleagues now have seen the warnings our Department of Education and executive branch issued during the year," said Paterson.

The state must now rewrite its application and the governor again will most likely push for education reforms before the application deadline of June 1.

The governor said New York came in 15th out of 16 finalists. The state lost 13 points in creating success for high-performing charters, lost 18 points in a category to use student data to improve teacher performance and lost 22 points for proposing plans and not following through. New York was 35 points behind Tennessee, and the governor said these three categories could have made up the difference.

Timothy G. Kremer, state School Board Association executive director, said the Legislature should take on these critical issues before the application's second deadline, saying New York cannot miss out on this chance, due to the state's fiscal crisis.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner released a statement saying the department will closely analyze the reviewers' comments from the first application to present a successful round-two submission.

"Critical to a positive outcome will be the legislative changes the Regents proposed prior to the submission of the round one application — changes that will not only strengthen our application, but will bring important benefits to education in New York state," he continued.

The state Department of Education reported that all school districts were on board to compete for the funds, but the governor said only 60 percent of teachers unions supported the effort. According to Paterson, both Delaware and Tennessee had full support from their teachers unions.

Paterson said there was "confusion … between different associations, particularly the union, that we weren't getting behind this program, we weren't holding our state up as an example for other states to follow."

The New York State United Teachers Union released a statement saying it was disappointed New York was not picked in round one but would work with the Department of Education to strengthen the state's new application.

There was no indication as to whether NYSUT would support raising or eliminating the current cap on the number of charter schools or allow a link between student performance and tenure.

"It is critical that New York not compromise principles of excellence designed to provide an equal educational opportunity for every child," said NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi. "This should not be about trading values for dollars. First and foremost, it's about what's good for kids and what is fair to communities and teachers."

Paterson said the Legislature must be more aggressive in its actions to build up the round-two application. He said lawmakers should take measures to change the law regarding the use of student data before it sunsets in June and raise the charter cap before the state has reached its limit of 200 to allow room for growth.

"In round two I'd like to see New York demonstrate the chauvinism we've always had about our state," said Paterson on how New York has been a leader in reform previously and can do it again with education. "First we have to adopt the right attitude: We can win. We can be victorious."

Along with education advocates, lawmakers expressed their disappointment in losing out on the funds.

Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, said although he was disappointed New York did not receive the funds, it was not unexpected since "Democrats in the Senate and Assembly refused to pass legislation to lift the cap on charters," saying Senate Republicans supported the governor's Race to the Top proposal.

"The Legislature should raise the cap on charter schools as part of the state budget," he said. "This would maximize the state's bid to receive federal money during the 2010-2011 fiscal year and afford us an opportunity to help schools and provide real property tax relief."

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who had brought an education reform plan to the floor resembling Paterson's, said he was not surprised New York did not win funding. "While other states took dynamic action, New York state did nothing," he commented.

Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said "without the funds, the decrease in education funding from last year goes from $1.4 billion to $2.15 billion," and the recent decisions in both houses to reduce funding to charters in their budget proposals is a step backward.

"Not only must we restore [charter school] funding, we must restore the reforms advocated by the Board of Regents in December," said Hoyt.

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