De Blasio Side Deal with Charters Still Hazy

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Despite the drawn out process, and debate over mayoral control of New York City Schools, the mayor was granted a two year extension by Albany in exchange for a side deal with several concessions charter leaders have been advocating for.

The Mayor’s office and the city’s Department of Education do not have any legislative authority over the charter sector, but they do have flexibility in the administration of charter schools.

The Mayor has promised a better process for charter schools to request space in public buildings or pay rent in private space. This concession comes with a promise to respond to requests for rent within five business days.

The provision of MetroCards for charter school students whose school day begins before busing starts is part of the agreement. The Mayor’s office projects that this program will cost roughly $3 million per year.

The mayor is also promising not to fight back should state officials reissue charters to New York City for charter schools that have closed – sometimes referred to as “Zombie Charters.” This makes an additional 22 charters available in New York City.

Curiously, zombie charters were addressed in the Legislature’s end of session bill in 2015. The Education Law was amended to allow the reissuing of charters that were surrendered, revoked, or terminated on or before July 1, 2015. For unknown reasons, the bill allowed for no more than 22 charters to be reissued.

However, the language of the bill is unclear as it states that “such reissuance shall not be counted toward the statewide numerical limit (460),” but does not indicate whether or not the reissuance of charters would be counted toward the separate limit of 50 in cities with populations over one million.

This can be interpreted as affirming that the reissuance of zombie charters counts toward the current charter cap of 50 in NYC (there are 23 remaining). This leaves room for public school advocates and teachers unions to protest the growth of charter schools in New York, even if the Mayor has promised not to protest.

Soon after an agreement was reached, the Mayor put out a press release about the extension of mayoral control over the New York City school system, the concessions being made to charter schools has yet to be codified.

While leaders in the school choice movement in New York are excited about these promises, only time will tell whether or not the Mayor will honor them and work with all New Yorkers to ensure students have access to an education that suits them best.

This year’s mayoral control side deal may have salvaged some progress for charters, but it also put more power in the Mayor’s hands. What de Blasio, or any other candidate, does with it is anybody’s guess.