With the governor silent on charter schools in his State of the State address, parents and operators are worried he is abandoning them as the largely successful privately-run but publicly funded schools seek to expand in New York.
Cuomo’s 2020 policy address delivered last week made no mention of charter schools and whether the governor would use his political muscle to lift or abolish the legal cap that is preventing more of the popular alternative schools from opening in New York City.
Cuomo’s silence did not go unnoticed by the parents of children who attend Success Academy, the city’s largest charter school network, who trekked to Albany on Tuesday to persuade lawmakers to support rather than fight their schools.
“My question would be, why not? Why are you forgetting about us?,” said Tatum Murphy, who has two children, Sage and Justice, who attend Success Academy in East Flatbush.
There are currently 260 charter schools in the city serving 126,000 students. But the city has already reached its legal limit, after another 32 in the pipeline open.
The state law sets a cap of 460 charter schools statewide. But within the cap, there are further restrictions on how many can open in New York City.
Six other city charter schools approved by the state last year can’t open because of the cap set by the Legislature, according to the NYC Charter School Center.
Crystal Eastman, a parent with two kids enrolled at Success Academy Hudson Yards said, “It made me nervous that we didn’t get mentioned as one of the governor’s priorities.”
“And I worry that since, certainly our charter school — Success Academy — is extremely high performing, people think we’re doing well and we don’t need anything else. It’s working, and the fact is there’s no space for our kids as they age.”
Aside from being constrained by the cap, Success Academy, which operates 45 charters, has been grappling with Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Education Department on providing space for its schools. Parents are also pushing for more state funding for their schools.
Charter schools typically have a longer school day and school year than traditional public schools and teaching staffs are not unionized. Many charter schools outperform their traditional counterparts on state standardized English and math exams, but critics have long complained they serve fewer needy students.
“It is disappointing,” said Ian Rowe, CEO of Public Prep, a network of same-sex charter schools, of Cuomo’s inattention.
But he added, “We remain hopeful because Gov. Cuomo’s support of charter schools has provided hundreds of thousands of low-income children more educational opportunity.”
When de Blasio sought to block charters from locating in city school buildings in 2014, Cuomo pushed through a law that forces the city to either offer space in city facilities or pay millions of dollars in rental costs for charters to locate in private buildings. During the debate, Cuomo showed up de Blasio by speaking at a charter school rally attended by thousands of parents outside the state Capitol.
At the time, pro-charter Republicans controlled the state Senate teamed up with Cuomo to blunt de Blasio’s attempt to rein in charters.
But now union-friendly Democrats who are hostile to charters control both the state Senate and Assembly.
The teachers’ union has fought charter school expansion because it claims the mostly non-union staffed alternatives divert funding from traditional public schools, compete for building space and serve fewer needy students.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) perhaps made it clear where her priorities lie. She met on Tuesday with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who formerly headed the city’s teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers. The unions are fighting charter school expansion.
Stewart-Cousins didn’t meet with the Success Academy parents.
Cuomo, when pressed last year, said he supported raising the charter cap but qualified that the Legislature had to agree. Nothing happened.
Charter advocates acknowledge they are operating in a more hostile political environment in the Legislature but believe Cuomo is still in their corner.
“The governor has been steadfast in his commitment to having excellent public schools that work for every child and having charter schools as an important part of achieving that goal,” said James Merriman, CEO of the NYC Charter School Center. “Let’s remember that the session is a marathon, not a sprint — and it certainly isn’t one speech.”
Murphy, the charter school parent, said Albany politicians shouldn’t hurt parents and their children.
“Politics over kids? C’mon,” she said.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi told The Post, “We care about all of New York’s children and we’re sure that finding ways to improve public schools across New York — and charter schools are public schools — will be a focus this year, as it is every year.”
The charter school cap was twice raised, in 2007 and 2010.