Hochul eyes charter school expansion, what does that mean for Bronx parents?

More than 200 Bronx families rallied in Albany, urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to lift the state's charter cap.
More than 200 Bronx families rallied in Albany, urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to lift the state’s charter cap.
Photo courtesy New York City Charter School Center

One of the biggest decisions in a parent’s life is where to send their child to school. For many, a “good” education is the key to long-term success, and for some, the ticket out of a bad neighborhood or a cycle of violence and poverty.

Yareldys Mesa, a 32-year-old parent of two in the Claremont section of the Bronx, wanted to send her child to a Catholic school her late brother once attended — St. Thomas Aquinas School in West Farms — but it closed permanently in 2020.

“You want the best for your child, you want to set them up for success and take them to a school that can get them out of here and away from these streets,” said Mesa.

Johnathan Diaz didn’t think it mattered where he sent his daughter, a choice between two public schools in Castle Hill, as long as she enjoyed where she was going.

But for parents interested in sending their child to a charter school — publicly-funded, tuition-free schools that have grown a presence in the Bronx over the past decade — much of that decision, they feel, is out of their hands.

Charter school officials and advocates have long decried a state cap on charters, citing a political motivation that interferes with a parent’s choice to send their child to a charter school and the ability to construct new ones.

When Success Academy aimed for a charter school to be built in Bronx’s School District 11, those plans were iced by the Adams administration when schools Chancellor David Banks said the proposal — along with two others in Queens — would create significant challenges for the new schools and the existing co-located schools.

District 11 parents like Nicole Lawrence say decisions to cap charter school don’t account for what the parent or student wants or has the option to apply to.

“As the primary parent who works long hours, I can’t handle a long commute and the locations of existing schools were just too far. I was thrilled to learn that Success is planning to open a new school next year in Williamsbridge, close to my neighborhood,” said Lawrence. “I applied, and that’s when I started learning about the politics involved in our public schools.”

New York City charter schools are currently capped at 275, and the most, 94, are in the Bronx. Hochul’s proposal would keep a statewide cap in place of 460 charter schools, but eliminate regional caps that would add 85 more slots for new schools anywhere in New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal would eliminate regional caps for charter schools, a move that is divisive to some. Photo Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

In 1998, the Charter Schools Acts allowed 100 charters to be authorized by the state, split 50-50 between the state Legislature-elected New York State Board of Regents or the State University of New York, which is controlled by the governor’s office.

Charter school advocates tell the Bronx Times that the borough is prime for more growth, citing a demand for more. Before the governor announced her proposal this week, more than 200 Bronx families rallied in Albany on Jan. 31 urging Hochul to lift the cap.

“I’m not going to say that if the (charter) cap is lifted that every kid would be served. To get 275 charters in the city, that took 25 years of investment, ” said James Merriman, chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center. “We’re not going to save the education system entirely, but wouldn’t it be nice to have not have a cap on how many good schools are in your district?”

Since the pandemic, the city’s traditional public schools in the nation’s largest system have seen year-to-year student loss and funding shortfalls, while New York City’s charter schools have seen a rise.

Charter schools have gained 10,000 children since the pandemic and Bronx charter school enrollment increased by 5.5% this past year. Under the Hochul’s proposal, per pupil funding for the state’s 343 charter schools would increase by 4.5%. Hochul sees the proposal as a “common sense” move that would also allow for the growth of charter schools by re-issuing charters that may have closed after July 2015.

A Morning Consult survey conducted for the pro-school choice Democrats for Education Reform found that 64% of parents have a favorable opinion of charter schools, while only 22% have an unfavorable view, with the remainder undecided or having no opinion.

The governor’s proposal, though, isn’t a widely supported one. State Senator and former schoolteacher Jabari Brisport, of Brooklyn, tweeted that lifting the charter cap — which had been in place since 2010 — would led to further funding gaps for already-under resourced city’s public school.

Queens state Sen. John Liu said the charter cap lift could “upset that balance” between providing parents with more schooling options for their children and the state’s constitutional mandate to keep public schools open.

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Charter schools have weathered criticism on their admissions process, findings that some tend to exclude certain high-needs groups such as students with disabilities. And financial transparency and internal discipline measures have also gained scrutiny over the years.

Other school systems that will see a decrease of funding are 4201 Schools — not-for-profit, state-supported schools serving students who are deaf, blind and severely physically disabled — to the tune of a $2 million cut outlined in Hochul’s $227 million budget.

Three of the 11 4201 schools throughout New York state are located in the Bronx.

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes