Changes to New York’s charter-school law championed by Governor Hochul yielded their first results yesterday as five charter schools, which together plan to serve more than 2,300 New York City students, got the green light to open.
New York’s charter schools are publicly funded, privately-managed operations that give families an alternative to their geographically assigned district-run school. The number of schools is subject to arbitrary limits set by the state Legislature, which had recently stopped additional charters (now educating about 14 percent of New York City public school students) from opening.
Earlier this year, Hochul proposed changes to those limits and met fierce opposition from the teachers union. She eventually got the Legislature to agree to smaller changes that would allow another 22 schools to open by utilizing left-over charters from schools that either closed or never opened.
The SUNY Board of Trustees, which oversees many of the state’s charter schools, announced yesterday that five previously authorized schools that were blocked by the cap have been re-approved to open—some as soon as next August.
Charter schools are the only tuition-free alternative for New York families who want something different from what their geographically assigned public school offers. Some of the schools approved yesterday offer specialized curriculum instruction, career pathway development and supportive environments for high-need students.
Among them is Haven Charter High School, which offers a curriculum for students in the Bronx that allows them to begin preparing for a career in the medical profession before they graduate. Starting in 9th grade, students are set down an educational pathway that not only ensures grade-level skill mastery but also provides industry-specific career development opportunities that culminate in professional licensure.
Though charter schools are public schools, they operate autonomously from the district and outside many state regulations. They serve some of the state’s highest-need students and families (most NYC’s charter school students are classified as economically disadvantaged), while routinely achieving higher results on state assessments in reading and math.
But this does not mean they are unaccountable. On the contrary, charter schools are held to higher accountability standards than district public schools. To open their doors, they must have applications authorized by the state Board of Regents or SUNY trustees. State law requires charter schools to demonstrate yearly improvement in student learning as measured by proficiency rates on state exams. Charter schools follow strict guidelines for operational and financial reporting, and are subject to annual audits by their authorizer, which include site visits. They must also demonstrate efficacy of curriculum and pedagogical choices, as well as equivalency to state and federal standards. And ultimately, for charter schools to remain open, parents must continue choosing to send their children there.
Even so, charter schools remain under constant threat from the teachers union and their political allies, who have sought to change everything from how charter schools are regulated to how their students get funding, in a bid to thwart what they view as an existential threat from higher performing, more desirable competitors.
Giving another 2,000-plus families a stake in New York’s charter schools will make it that much harder for charter opponents to pull the plug on two decades of success—or to keep blocking the doors for other students.