Education groups lobby against building aid for charter schools

A coalition of the state’s seven biggest education organizations are “vigorously opposing” a proposal to provide state building aid to charter schools.

In a legislative memo being circulated to state lawmakers in the final days of budget negotiations, the group, called the Educational Conference Board, argues that charter schools are already a financial burden on school districts. To now give them access to a pot of funds intended for district schools would further undermine the state’s ability to fully fund district schools, the memo contends.

“Anything that is going to detract from getting aid to the public schools is a problem for us and that certainly is the case for the building aid,” ECF Chair John Yagielski said in an interview.

The coalition is made up of groups representing teachers, parents, school boards, superintendents and school budget officials. Yagielski said “they don’t always agree on everything,” but the fact that such a diverse group is lined up in opposition is an example of the threat seen by charter schools.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate are mulling a plan to provide facilities funding to charter schools that operate in private space. While the issue stemmed from a conflict between Mayor Bill de Blasio and charter school advocates in New York City, this proposal would also benefit nearly 60 charter schools outside of the city that operate in private space, as well as any new schools that wanted to open in the future.

There are many details in the proposal that still need to be ironed out, none of which the legislative leaders have been eager to share in their twice-daily briefings with reporters after meeting with Cuomo. How much money should be available to build or renovate new schools? Under what conditions should the money be made available? And should the proposal only be confined to New York City? 

“It’s a whole new concept,” Speaker Sheldon Silver said on Wednesday evening. “It needs a lot of exploring.” 

The coalition came out in support of the Common Core standards in a delicately-worded statement last year. The seven groups are the New York State United Teachers, the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, the New York State Association of School Business Officials, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State School Boards Association, and the School Administrators Association of New York State and the Parent Teachers Association.