Published Online: January 19, 2010

N.Y. Legislature Rejects Charter School Bill

The Legislature in a special session Monday refused to act on a bill Gov. David Paterson said is needed for the state to have a chance at $700 million in federal school aid.

Republican senators, who were ignored by the Democratic majority when they tried to bring Paterson's bill to a vote, said the result will likely be loss of the federal aid, higher school taxes and a net cut of hundreds of millions of dollars in statewide school funding.

The Legislature was due back in session Tuesday morning. But there was little support among majority Democrats for Paterson's bill that would allow more charter schools than the Legislature's bill, which also restricted how charter schools operated and could be approved.

Paterson scolded Democratic lawmakers who blocked his bill Monday night, saying he suspects their anger toward mayoral control of New York City schools or possibly toward him are factors. Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly supports Paterson's bill.

Paterson also accused lawmakers of "elitist sophistry" for saying they want to win the federal grant, while dooming the state's chances. He accused them of not wanting to work "for the schoolchildren of New York who need this."

"They are setting an example to New York state's schoolchildren, and I don't think it's a particularly good one," Paterson said.

He said that the Legislature's bill "doesn't meet the threshold at all" for the grant.

The federal application in the Race to the Top competition, aimed at improving education, is due in Washington at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The Legislature and Democratic governor have played what some lawmakers called a game of chicken: It pits Paterson and his insistence on a broad expansion of charter schools to get the federal money against the Legislature, which long sought to restrict charter schools that it contends hurt funding for traditional public schools. Complicating matters, two senior legislators Monday evening signed onto Paterson's bill as an alternative to their leaders' bill.

Fueling the fight is Paterson's get-tough strategy against the Legislature that lawmakers openly deride as political theater for his election bid this year. The application is due the day Paterson is scheduled to release a 2010-11 state budget proposal that is expected to include a cut in state education aid in the second year of New York's fiscal crisis.

Republicans in the Senate's minority warn that failure to get the federal funds will likely drive up local school property taxes.

"This reflects a good deal of animosity between the branches," said Lee Miringoff, of the Marist College poll. "There have been stalemates before, but this is in-your-face at almost anything that comes up ... they both seem to take some relish in pointing to the other. There's no end in sight for this one."

On Friday, Paterson and legislative leaders agreed to raise the cap on charter schools to better qualify for as much as $700 million in federal Race to the Top education funds. But the bill submitted by both chambers Saturday night included a cap of 400 charters — when Paterson insisted that 454 charters was the minimum to qualify for the full award.

The Legislature's bill would also force greater accountability measures on charter schools and give greater authority for authorizing them to the Board of Regents — chosen by the Legislature — than the State University of New York Board of Trustees — chosen by the governor.

Bloomberg, a strong supporter of charter schools as alternatives to failing traditional schools in inner cities, said the Legislature's bill "really is an insult to parents and children."

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