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State Senate backs increase in charter school cap

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The state Senate approved a bill Monday that would raise the cap on charter schools in New York from 200 to 460, a move legislators said could help the state land as much as $700 million in federal education funding.

“Few things incite such passion as the education of our children,” Senate President Pro Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said. “Raising the charter school cap will put New York in a more competitive position to receive the much-needed $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding. This legislation gives us the unique opportunity to offer parents educational opportunities for their children they might not otherwise have.”

State officials, including Gov. David Paterson, have said the federal government did not award hundreds of millions of dollars in Race to the Top funds to New York because legislators failed to raise the cap last year on charter schools — publicly funded but privately run institutions supported by President Barack Obama’s administration.

New York has until June 1 to apply for the $700 million in Race to the Top funding. Race to the Top is part of the federal economic stimulus package.

“This is the beginning of an important conversation with the Senate, the Assembly, the governor and other stakeholders about how to best position New York to win federal funding,” Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson said. “We look forward to engaging in a thoughtful dialogue in the weeks ahead.”

The bill, which still needs to go before the Assembly, would require the charter schools to enroll additional special education students and English language learners.

Queens lawmakers, union officials and other state politicians have criticized the way charter schools are now run in the city, contending the schools enroll too few of New York’s poorest students, English-language learners and special education pupils.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of the nonprofit Class Size Matters, slammed the bill for not including a provision that would allow the state comptroller to audit the charter schools.

“Without more rigorous protections of the rights of all parents students, and taxpayers, corruption and abuse of power will continue to flourish and the education of our children will suffer grievously as a result,” Haimson said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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