Saturday, May 29, 2010

Empire State Charter Victory

Here's the editorial in today's WSJ:

·         MAY 29, 2010

Empire State Charter Victory

But unions extract some pieces of Silver.

The charter school movement scored a victory in New York State this week, though not without the usual union attempts to sabotage reform.

On Friday, Albany lawmakers voted to increase the cap on charter schools to 460 from 200 over the next four years. The vote came just in time for the state to meet a June 1 application deadline for $700 million in federal Race to the Top grant money. State officials believe New York was passed over in the first round of the contest due in part to the charter school cap, which the unions have fought to preserve.

Teachers unions oppose charters because many of them operate outside of collective bargaining agreements. To block their growth, the United Federation of Teachers has typically turned to political allies such as Democrat Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

During the latest negotiations, Mr. Silver and the UFT tried to strip the State University of New York of its powers to authorize new charters. SUNY is one of only two state-wide charter authorizers in New York. The other is the State Board of Regents, which is effectively controlled by Mr. Silver and the Assembly. Fortunately, the power grab failed.

But in other ways the union obstructionism was more successful. Mr. Silver managed to include a provision banning new charter contracts with for-profit management companies. Never mind that students at nine of 10 for-profit charters recently outperformed surrounding districts schools in math and reading on standardized tests. Which suggests that prohibiting for-profits from opening new charter schools has everything to do with slowing their growth, not helping kids.

To the extent that President Obama's Race to the Top contest has helped convince states like New York to enact long overdue education reforms, it's been a useful exercise. State officials have dollar signs in their eyes, but the better reason for Albany to act was the 40,000 kids now on charter school waiting lists. Whether or not New York's grant application is successful, these children and their families will be better off with more school choice.

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