A bill introduced in Albany last week could limit The State University of New York’s (SUNY) power to certify charter schools, empowering the Board of Regents to veto the university’s recommendations for which schools should be allowed to open. New Board of Regents head Merryl Tisch is leading the charge for the change, and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told GothamSchools today she supports the bill.
“SUNY as an entity is not sensitive to issues in the communities here,” Tisch told the Daily News. (A call to Tisch’s office has not yet been returned).
Currently, the state’s Board of Regents, which is one of three boards that can authorize city charter schools, reviews SUNY’s authorizations but cannot prevent the SUNY-approved schools from opening. The Board has disagreed with SUNY’s charters two thirds of the time since 2007. While the Regents can’t block those schools from opening, they do have the power to revoke the charters of SUNY schools that drop below their standards.
The bill was introduced by Assembly Education Chair Catherine Nolan last week and is described as a way to standardize and streamline the chartering process. Critics of the bill argue that SUNY’s charter schools outperform other charters and that consolidating the power to authorize charters would mean fewer charter schools in the city. It’s unclear how much of a chance the bill has to pass, though charter advocates say they plan to work vigilantly to prevent it from becoming law.
United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten defended Nolan’s and the Regents’ stance, even though SUNY is the UFT’s charter authorizer.
“If you really want to have top to bottom and bottom to top accountability you should have one statewide entity authorizing charters, not two,” she said. “We are always looking for ways to save money and be more efficient and having one statewide authorizer is probably best.”
The spokeswoman for SUNY’s Charter School Institute Cynthia Proctor refuted the claim that they are out of touch with the communities where they certify schools, pointing out that many of the institute’s top executives work in the New York City office at least part time. The Regents have applied their empty veto to schools that ended up being very successful, Proctor added, and pointed to the fact that SUNY charter schools are outperforming other charters on test scores (82% of SUNY-approved charter kids passed the state English exams).
Peter Murphy, the policy director at New York Charter Schools Association, said the bill doesn’t make sense for education, since having both SUNY and the Regents as authorizers means more high-performing charter schools are available for more kids. Each board has authorized successful schools that the other one might have passed up.
“They’ve been a check on each other,” he said. He added that his organization would fight the bill.
Another charter advocate said he thought the bill might make it out of committee but not out of the Senate.
The city’s chancellor of education and the Board of Regents also authorize city charters, but SUNY is considered the most rigorous authorizer of city charter schools.
“We’re the only charter school authorizer that has closed a school down for failing to perform,” Proctor said. “It’s not just a rubber stamp, it is a rigorous evaluation process.” SUNY has closed down seven schools for not meeting their standards.
SUNY has chartered 64 schools, 43 of which are in New York City.
SUNY’s memo of opposition to the bill notes that the Regents agreed with SUNY’s recommendations 75 percent of the time from 1999 to 2007. The percentage plunged to about a third beginning June 2007.