Failure to lift the charter-school cap hurts NY’s most deprived kids

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“It is a crushing loss for the Harlem community,” says Elsie McCabe Thompson, CEO of the Mission Society, the city’s most venerable anti-poverty group. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense” and shows “a big disconnect between elected officials and their constituents,” says Joseph Belluck, chairman of the SUNY Charter School Committee.

They’re talking about the Legislature’s refusal to raise the cap on charter schools even a smidge, despite huge demand for charter seats among low-income families desperate for better educational choices. Why the refusal? Because teachers’ unions don’t want any more children escaping the regular public schools that they control (and mostly now keep closed, to boot).

The Mission Society got a preliminary OK to open the Minisink charter school in its headquarters at Malcolm X Blvd. and 142nd Street. It planned to spend $5 million over five years to help subsidize lower class sizes and had already bought a science lab.

But the Minisink school can’t open because the city has hit the charter cap. “It’s a crying shame that we couldn’t get anywhere in Albany to authorize more charter schools,” says McCabe Thompson. “Parents, minority parents, do like charter schools. There was no one who would stand up for us. It’s criminal.”

“The parents in New York City want more charter schools,” notes Belluck, with “waiting lists in all of the existing charter schools. There aren’t enough seats.”

He called lawmakers’ refusal to raise the cap especially “incredible” because charters have been a “lifeline” to students and parents during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, New York City’s regular public-school population shrank by 4 percent last year, losing 43,000 students, while charters saw 7 percent growth with a 10,000-student boost in enrollment.

Assembly Education Committee Chairman Michael Benedetto actually admitted that the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers helped lawmakers decide to keep the cap unchanged.

Lawmakers wouldn’t even take Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s compromise offer of reviving the 20 “zombie” licenses, charters that count against the cap though they went to schools that closed or failed to ever open. That would’ve allowed Minisink and 10 other schools OK’d by the SUNY committee to open.

Instead, the Legislature showered more cash on the public-school systems that don’t satisfy parents. The special interests trump the public’s needs.

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