Governor Kathy Hochul has indicated that she may negotiate a compromise when it comes to charter schools, allowing for the reissuance of “zombie” charters to schools that are currently closed without actually raising the overall cap number.
Charter schools have been the cause of significant friction when it comes to approving a state budget. As is typical when discussing this issue, charter advocates say the schools provide innovative teaching methods and a better education to underserved student populations, Teachers’ unions say the privately owned but publicly funded schools draw resources away from traditional public schools.
In Hochul’s budget proposal for 2024, she initially stated her intention to lift the regional cap on charters which affects the city specifically.
“The FY 2024 Executive Budget also proposes to eliminate the regional cap on the number of charters that may be issued in New York City,” it reads. While New York State as a whole has not reached its limit on the number of charter schools allowed, the city has its own regional limit of 275 charter schools, and is already at capacity.
Hochul’s budget proposal also stated the intention to allow for reissuing of charters to those which closed after a certain date:
“Additionally, the Executive Budget proposes to permanently authorize the reissuance of any charter originally issued to a charter school that subsequently closed after July 1, 2015, due to surrender, revocation, termination or non-renewal. These changes will permit the issuance of additional charters in New York City and expand educational opportunities for students.”
This so-called “zombie” charter revival would allow new charter schools to open within New York City.
Now, it seems Hochul has conceded on the more ambitious point of lifting the regional cap, but is pressing forward with the goal of reissuing zombie charters. This would result in a dramatically scaled-back result compared to lifting the cap, but would still increase the total number of charter schools in the city.
Proponents of charter schools say their increased flexibility in curriculum and operation makes for a better overall education and better prepares students for college, and that the school-choice model holds the schools to greater accountability than traditional public schools. They also point to studies that show charter school students do better on average than those in traditional public schools: New York State exams in 2019 found that 63% of charter students in grades three through eight passed the state math exam and 57% of charter students were proficient in English Language Arts (compared to just 46% and 47% of traditional public school students in those subjects), as reported by AM New York.
However, critics claim the schools’ success comes at the expense of traditional public schools, arguing that they can draw resources away from the rest of the district. Teachers’ unions have also traditionally opposed the expansion of charter schools since many of the positions are filled with non union teachers who can be hired and fired more freely.
From 2009 to 2019, public charter school enrollment in the US jumped over 100%, from 1.6 million students in fall 2009 to 3.4 million students in fall 2019—an overall increase of 1.8 million students. At current, New York State has 343 operating charter schools serving over 170,000 students but the number of students in the charter schools as well as traditional public schools dropped during COVID and has not fully recovered.
“Governor Hochul’s effort to increase educational opportunity for our City’s children has been thwarted by Albany politics. A ‘deal’ of only 14 charters that discriminates against families in certain neighborhoods is a travesty for poor kids and families of color,” says Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of charter school group Success Academies.
“After decades of spending more than any other state in the country, New York’s student achievement ranks in the bottom 10% of states in math nationally, and the bottom third in reading. The victims of this educational neglect are low-income Black and Brown children, and Albany has bargained away their access to high-quality schools. This discrimination must stop.”