A staff shortage in upstate hospitals prompted a gathering last week in the Capitol in Albany, where hospital officials and state lawmakers asked that more funding to train medical professionals be included in January’s state budget proposal. 

Before seeking new money, however, the Legislature should first look to remove the cap on charter schools that’s currently keeping at least one school from opening whose mission specifically includes training students to attain medical certifications.  

The Eastside House Settlement, a Bronx-based nonprofit, won authorization from the SUNY Charter Schools Institute to open Haven Charter High School, which, according to its charter application, would provide classes leading to certification credentials in EKG and phlebotomy, pharmacy tech and CPR/first aid, and eventually for nurse’s aides. In other words, it would train medical professionals. (It would also prepare students for IT certifications in Cisco Networking and Microsoft).

Charter schools in New York are publicly funded, privately operated schools. To open their doors, they must have their applications approved by the Board of Regents or SUNY, the only two charter authorizers in the state. Post-authorization, they are accountable to the state through five-year performance reviews.

While the State Education Department (NYSED) deliberates on how best to prepare students for life after graduation, Haven Charter High earned authorization to do just that by providing early career development in two of the fastest-growing industries in the state: health care and technology. 

Only, it isn’t permitted to open its doors.  

Under the state’s Charter Schools Act, only 460 charter schools are permitted statewide. A special sub-cap applies in New York City, which has long had the greatest demand for choice outside of the traditional public school system. No new charters are currently being permitted to open in the city due to the cap, even though there are unused charters available and being wasted because they have been awarded to schools no longer operating.

The waiting list for charter seats is longest in the poorest, most racially diverse areas of the city, including Bronx Community District #8, where Haven Charter High would operate. Community district #8 has been categorized as a target district by NYSED, due both to its population of high-need students and its concentration of schools that are below state standards of proficiency, unable to provide a safe, enriching environment — or both. 

The unfulfilled demand of low-income and minority parents for charter seats should be motivation enough for the Legislature to lift or remove the charter cap —a proposition for which Governor Hochul herself voiced support during the recent gubernatorial campaign. 

Nevertheless, if the state is in urgent need of more trained hospital staff, shouldn’t it be using all available means to address the shortage — including by permitting a Bronx charter school to open its doors so it can prepare disadvantaged youth to be certified health care workers?

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