Opinion

State lawmakers have no excuses left: Lift the cap on charter schools now!


With Washington dumping billions on New York City’s public-school system, the Legislature’s main excuse for not raising the cap on charter schools in the city is now toast, points out State University Board chief Meryl Tisch.

The question now is whether lawmakers will come up with some new, even more absurd argument — or do the right thing for the tens of thousands of mostly minority and lower-income New York families who desperately want charter seats for their kids.

The excuse was ridiculous, mind you: The claim that charters steal resources from the regular public schools was always bunk. Yes, a school’s budget is largely based on how many kids it enrolls, but it’s also obliged to spend on behalf of those children. It actually winds up with more cash per student if a few of them transfer to charters.

As important: No school owns it students. Forcing a family to keep sending its kids to an institution by denying it any other choice is beyond vile, no matter how much you dress it up in talk of “supporting public education.”

Not to mention that charters are public schools, just ones (mostly) free of the deadening bureaucracy and union control.

In reality, it’s teachers-union power that’s kept the cap in place: These unions, perhaps the strongest lobbying force in the state, hate charters because they deliver for kids without producing dues for the United Federation of Teachers and its parent, New York State United Teachers, and because these non-union schools’ success points to how union rules blight the regular public schools.

Nonetheless, the funding issue is what state lawmakers have relied upon as their pretext for denying all the pleas to “lift the cap” on how many charters can open in the city. (There’s a separate statewide cap, but that’s not a burning issue yet.)

The State University of New York is one of two entities allowed to issue new charters, and it has OK’d a dozen promising ones that can’t open because of the cap. Schools such as Urban Dove in western Queens, which would be a “second chance” academy for struggling teens, and the Minisink school in Harlem, which is sponsored by the Mission Society, the city’s oldest anti-poverty group.

“Our schools should be allowed to open,” says Tisch. “The argument against raising the cap was that there were scarce resources during the pandemic and people didn’t want to take resources from district schools.” But with vast funds now flowing in, “that argument is gone.”

And: “Just saying no is not an answer.”

She’s not hostile to the regular system: Indeed, as former head of the state Board of Regents, she happily oversaw them for years. But: “I’ve always believed that every child should have a choice of a very good school,” and letting charters bloom is a key step to making that dream a reality.

Having lost its excuse for denying hope to New York City parents and kids, the Legislature has plenty of time remaining in this session to get the job done.

Do it for the children, or admit you don’t really care about their future at all.


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