Board of Regents could grab more charter control from SUNY

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.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.