January 15, 2010

Time to fix charter law to advance fairness, transparency

Source: New York Teacher
Caption: United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew talks about charter school under-enrollment of students with disabilities during a news conference at UFT headquarters in New?York City.

The union's message on the charter law is simple: Before the state raises the cap on charter schools, lawmakers must fix the law to ensure fairness in funding and in how students are selected, transparency in charter operator finances and an end to the practice of skimming profits.

While the Legislature debated lifting the cap to gain points for the state's Race to the Top funding application, NYSUT urged lawmakers to seize the opportunity and make meaningful change in the decade-old charter law to be fair to students, schools and taxpayers. NYSUT members sent more than 16,000 faxes in the opening days of the union's campaign to press for reforms to the law, which also includes phone calls and ads in print and other media.

NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi noted that fixing the charter law to make operators more accountable would improve New York state's eligibility for federal monies."Our state can qualify for federal funding AND enact a meaningful charter law reform that's good for New York's school children and fair to taxpayers," Iannuzzi said. "Chasing good dollars with bad bills is shortsighted and shortchanges our students most in need."

NYSUT urged lawmakers to approve the union's "Chartering Fairness" plan that includes:

  • Requiring charter operators to serve the same population as regular public schools, including English language learners and students with disabilities;
  • Subjecting charter operators to the same audits and disclosure requirements as regular public schools;
  • Offering relief to cities saturated with charters, such as Albany and Buffalo;
  • Fixing the funding formula to ensure every child is fairly funded; and 
  • Banning for-profit operators. Kids must come before corporate profits.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew cited evidence that New York City charter operators enroll far fewer of the city's poorest students, English language learners and students with disabilities.

"The teachers in charter schools are just as dedicated and passionate about their students as the teachers in district schools are," Mulgrew said. However, Mulgrew said, the charter law on the books sets up a system that allows operators to under-enroll the neediest students — the city's poorest children, English language learners and children with disabilities.

NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta noted: "This is an important union role: holding management accountable for inappropriate practices that affect students and teachers in both regular public schools and charter schools."

NYSUT and the UFT represent teachers in charter and regular public schools.

As New York Teacher went to press, lawmakers were still working on a possible compromise package.