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N.Y. Fails to Agree on Charter Schools for Grant

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Gov. David Paterson and legislative leaders failed Tuesday to reach a compromise on expanding charter schools by a federal deadline, with millions of dollars in education funding at stake.

Paterson and top lawmakers met again after the governor's special session Monday night failed to produce a change in the charter school law. Paterson said a cap of 454 school charters was needed to help New York secure $700 million in Obama administration Race to the Top funding to improve education.

The state currently has 169 charter schools, with only six charters available for new ones. The current cap is 200, but charters can't be used again for schools that close.

Charter school advocates said the application, as it stands, is stronger without the Legislature's restrictions.

The Legislature's bill, which would raise the cap to 400, also would force greater accountability on charter schools and give greater power for authorizing them to New York's Board of Regents — chosen by the Legislature — instead of the State University of New York Board of Trustees — chosen by the governor.

The lawmakers' measure was the subject of discussion in the majority Senate Democratic Conference, which was unable to agree by the 4 p.m. Tuesday deadline. The bill never came up for a vote.

Democratic leader Sen. John Sampson said that education reform has always come in phases, they support the current federal grant application and if that fails, the state will reapply. "It is unfortunate some chose to deny our state the tools it needs to build a foundation for long-term education improvements," he said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who heads that chamber's Democratic majority, had said their bill would have "put an end to divisive fights over school space by giving traditional public school parents a voice in the process when they are asked to give up classrooms to accommodate a new or expanding charter school in their school building."

Silver released a statement late Tuesday saying he was disappointed an agreement couldn't be reach.

"I remain committed to working with our partners in government to authorize the creation of 200 additional charter schools that are high performing and subject to greater accountability, while serving our students in greatest need," Silver said.

The Assembly also adjourned Tuesday without voting on a charter schools measure.

"Once again, when an important deadline was upon us and action was needed on an important issue, the Democrats in both houses were unable to act," said Sen. Dean Skelos, leader of the Senate's Republican minority.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a supporter of charter schools as alternatives to failing traditional schools in inner cities, had called the Legislature's bill "an insult to parents and children."

"Today is a sad day for the children of New York, for the tens of thousands of students on wait lists for charter schools and for the thousands more who need and deserve better educational choices," Bloomberg and Paterson said in a joint statement released Tuesday.

"We are disappointed that we may now miss out on an opportunity to receive unprecedented federal funding for our schools and our children," the statement said.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing almost 90,000 New York City teachers, said the state missed an opportunity for reforms that would have increased the transparency of charter operations and helped to force "profiteers" out.

"But charter advocates and their allies resisted these desperately needed reforms, to the point where the Legislature was unable to act," he said.

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