Charter school advocates rallied in City Hall Park Wednesday to push state lawmakers on action that would increase the number of charter school seats in the Big Apple.
A debate to lift a statewide cap on charter school licenses has stalled, leaving New York City maxed out on its number of charters – even though a slew of the licenses are for schools that are now closed.
Charter school leaders and supporters are asking the state Legislature to include in its budget a change that would allow dormant “zombie” charters to be reassigned to new charters.
“It is unconscionable in these past two years in particular that we would not do everything possible to make sure that our kids and our families have the best possible education choices,” said Crystal McQueen Taylor from StudentsFirstNY.
“There’s actually something that we can do about this right now.”
James Merriman, chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, called the approach “so modest and commonsensical that it’s almost embarrassing that we have to be up here asking lawmakers to do it.”
The contentious debate over lifting the charter school cap in New York City has pitted advocates for school choice against opponents to redirecting public funds to private operators.
Charter proponents say reissuing closed charters is a simple solution that keeps the cap in place. It also incentivizes low-performing charters that close to be replaced by new and improved alternatives.
“That’s the point of charter schools in part — if they don’t perform, they close,” Merriman said.
“What we’re really asking for is just a different way to count charters as the number of schools operated.”
Charter school leaders have been adamant that the demand for more seats is there. Though enrollment has jumped in city charter schools by 9 percent over two years, five charter schools opened this school year, according to the New York City Charter School Center.
The center added Mayor Eric Adams has previously thrown his support behind the idea, testifying at a legislative hearing in Albany about getting “zombie” charters back in use.
Critics of the plan to reissue those charters, which has precedent in the state, have said it circumvents the cap and shortchanges students in Department of Education-operated schools by sharing the wealth — and space. Close to half of the city’s 271 charter schools are at least partially in buildings owned or leased by the department, center data showed.
But at the rally, speakers with aspirations to found new charter schools painted a picture of what they could accomplish if allowed to open their doors.
Three years ago, Daniel Diaz sought approval for Haven Charter High School in the Bronx, where he said a student would graduate with a diploma, certification and potential job offer with its partner New York Presbyterian.
“We got approved — with an IOU,” said Diaz, who is also the executive director of East Side House Settlement. “And that IOU set people back a couple of years, because then we were not able to open our doors.”