Queens Assembly reps OK charter school bill

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Queens state Assembly members helped to usher in legislation that more than doubles the number of charter schools in New York state last week, a move officials said could help the state land hundreds of millions of dollars in federal education funding.

The Assembly bill raises the cap on charter schools — publicly funded but privately run institutions supported by President Barack Obama’s administration — from 200 to 460. The state Senate passed a similar bill earlier this month.

The number of charter schools in New York City could grow to no more than 214. There are 100 in the city now.

The Assembly’s Queens delegation voted for the bill, including Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood), chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, and Assemblymen Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), David Weprin (D-Little Neck) and Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills).

“This bill will allow New York state to submit a competitive application for federal Race to the Top funding and increase our chances at receiving up to $700 million for our schools,” said Nolan.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Gov. David Paterson echoed Nolan’s sentiments, saying the support for the charter schools was crucial for the Race to the Top application that was due June 1.

The legislation addresses concerns Queens lawmakers, including Lancman and Weprin, had voiced, and it will prohibit any for-profit operation from running the schools; ensure that the charters will enroll more English-language learners, children with disabilities and reduced-price lunch program participants than are currently in the institutions; and allow the state comptroller to audit the charter schools.

It also requires the city schools chancellor to develop building usage plans for the fair allocation of space — a response to legislators’ concerns that the city would move charters into public school buildings.

“These sweeping reforms will help put an end to divisive fighting over school space and give a meaningful voice in the process to traditional public school parents,” Silver said. “The legislation also increases transparency by giving the state comptroller auditing power over charter schools while ensuring that they enroll and retain children with special needs. This measure will undoubtedly encourage the creation of more successful charter schools in New York state.”

Not everyone was pleased with the legislation, and United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew criticized the bill.

“It does not go far enough to address concerns about over-saturation of charter schools in certain districts,” Mulgrew said.

Lawmakers have pointed to Harlem as a place where too many charter schools have sprouted.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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