Klein pushes for increase in cap on charter schools

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City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein urged congregation members at Jamaica’s New Jerusalem Baptist Church to support lifting the cap on charter schools the week before he said the state Assembly must pass legislation to ensure New York lands hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

“The Senate supported that cap — now we need the Assembly to support it,” Klein told several hundred people at the Jamaica church Sunday. “We can’t afford to look away from $700 million.”

The state Senate earlier this month approved a bill that would raise the cap on charter schools in New York state from 200 to 460, a move Klein, Gov. David Paterson and some legislators have said could help the state secure as much as $700 million in federal Race to the Top funding.

State officials, including Bloomberg, Paterson and Klein, have said the federal government did not award the federal Race to the Top funds to New York earlier this year 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 second round of Race to the Top funding. Race to the Top is part of the federal economic stimulus package.

“We’ve got one week left,” Klein said. “We’ve got to get this thing done.”

Klein said the money would be of particular use in light of possible budget cuts from Albany.

“Because of the governor’s budget, our schools would lose $500 million,” Klein said. “We may have to lay off teachers for the first time since the mid-1970s.”

Klein noted the support for charter schools at New Jerusalem, which is slated to open one of the institutions in the fall of 2010.

The Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School is expected to open its doors this September and, according to the church’s Web site, will teach each student to “stand out from the crowd intellectually, historical culturally, digitally, economically, physically, artistically and civically.” The K-5 school will be housed in the administrative wing of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church.

“What your pastor is doing with this charter school is really important,” Klein said.

Huntley voted to remove the charter cap.

“I feel parents should have a choice,” Huntley said in an interview last week.

Other Queens lawmakers, including Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), union officials and city Comptroller John Liu, a former Flushing councilman, have criticized the way charter schools are run in the city, contending the schools enroll too few of New York’s poorest students, English-language learners and special education pupils.

“A lot of us in the Assembly have a problem with the whole charter school movement because it’s something that should be providing a vehicle for experimentation which could then be used to make our public schools better,” Lancman said. “Instead, it’s morphing into an alternative public school system. The purpose of these charter schools is to have these educational laboratories free from the standards of ordinary public schools so that innovation can be tried, and the successful innovations can be imported into the public school system.”

Lancman said he expects the Assembly to vote on legislation pertaining to charter schools this week and said he expects the bill will address a number of concerns legislators have about charter schools, including limitations on for-profit companies running charters, allowing the city and state comptrollers to audit the schools, and placing conditions on locating charters in public school buildings.

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

Updated 5:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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