Mayor de Blasio negotiated a side deal to provide new concessions to charter school operators in parallel to the state legislature's agreement to extend mayoral control of New York City schools.
De Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan quietly worked on the deal, according to the Mayor's Office. The agreement allows charter companies to open 22 new schools in the state using the contracts of schools that closed or never opened. Since Mayor Tall took office, Senate Republicans have used the state's power over the city's governance of its schools to make the mayor squirm, twice renewing mayoral control for just a year, each time only after extracting unrelated concessions for the charter school industry. Charter-backing bigwigs happen to heavily fund state Republicans, Cuomo, and the Senate's rogue Independent Democratic Conference.
During this year's legislative session, Assembly Democrats tied the renewal of mayoral control to various local tax extensions in an effort to take the political football out of play, but Flanagan refused to engage, seeking an increase in the number of charters allowed to open in the state. The standoff continued through the end of the legislative session, and Cuomo ordered legislators back to Albany the following week for a special session, where they finally passed a two-year extension of mayoral control. The side of respect for local governance had won and the endless political horse-trading of Albany had taken a momentary pause, or so it seemed.
Today, though, the Mayor's Office dispelled this illusion with the announcement of the backroom deal, reported partially earlier in the week by the Wall Street Journal. There are currently 216 charters in the city, and 23 that could yet open, according to the New York City Charter School Center. By re-purposing so-called zombie charters, contracts issued by the state then revoked or given up, the deal allows another nearly two dozen of the privately run, publicly funded schools to open.
“The charter sector is an important partner in our mission to deliver an excellent education to every child in New York City," Mayor's Office spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein wrote in an emailed statement. "Through the debate over mayoral control, we identified a few common-sense areas where we could better work together to ensure all 1.1 million school children have a chance to succeed."
Near the end of the botched legislative session, a spokesman for Flanagan, the leading Senate Republican, suggested that the tens of thousands of children on waiting lists for charter schools shows that demand outstrips whatever capacity could be met by the opening of a few dozen more schools. Responding to the revelation of the under-the-table deal, Flanagan was enthusiastic, saying in a statement, "I thank the mayor for his openness in addressing this important issue and for demonstrating his support for both children who are currently in a charter school and those who would like to be." There are no charter schools in Flanagan's Long Island district.
Critics of charter schools, teachers unions prominently among them, argue that the schools sap much-needed resources from traditional public schools, and that charter schools' superior test scores are achieved at times through harsh discipline and by pressuring out students with behavioral issues and disabilities. This deal is more of the same from an administration that, despite its union backing, has made repeated concessions to the charter industry, according to one advocate.
"New York City is intending to again increase the number of charter schools without any new protections to parents, children and taxpayers," said Jasmine Gripper, legislative director of the union-funded Alliance for Quality Education. "It is irresponsible for New York to continue to open new charters without remedying the dangerous lack of accountability and transparency in this industry."
De Blasio's deal also includes several other charter-friendly provisions from the city, including providing MetroCards for charter students whose school year begins before school busing starts; increasing facilities funding by around $7 million per year; fast-tracking facilities payments and building upgrades; and pledging not to break up schools into multiple sites.
Charter backers praised the deal.
"This deal will benefit all kids across New York City," said Jenny Sedlis of the group StudentsFirstNY, speaking to NY1. "Parents will have access to more great school options, and charter school operators will now be able to return their focus to the classroom."
The Governor's Office did not respond to a request for comment. Cuomo claimed to be for renewing mayoral control, but did little publicly to promote an extension independent of more goodies for charter operators.