Governor, Leaders Agree to Resolve Charter Schools Dispute Before Deadline

Albany, NY – The Race to the Top fund is part of the federal stimulus program for
education, but the $4.3 billion dollars that will be awarded
nationwide are based on competitive criteria.

New York could qualify for much needed federal money if it complies
with numerous requirements for improving schools, and student and
teacher performance. But, Governor David Paterson told legislative
leaders, the application has to be submitted by next Tuesday, January
19th.

"This isn't like our deadlines that we go through all the time,"
Paterson warned. "This is Washington's deadline, and they're not
playing."

But, one major sticking point remained, over the issue of the
expansion of charter schools. The federal guidelines say that states
"can't inhibit the growth of charter schools". New York has limited
the total of charter schools to 200, and now there are only 40 slots
left. Governor Paterson, after initially insisting that the state's
charter school cap be lifted altogether, at the meeting with
legislative leaders conceded that he would agree to an expansion of
the number of charter schools, perhaps to 454, or 10% of the number
of the state's public schools. Lawmakers have indicated they could be
open to what would amount to a doubling of the current cap.

But then, a new disagreement emerged, over what entity should control
the regulation of the charter schools.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants the State Education Department
to have oversight over any new charter schools. Currently some
charter schools are overseen by the Education Department and others
are regulated by SUNY. Silver says if the charter schools fall under
the state education department, they can be subject to audits from
the State Comptroller's office, and it would address some of his
Assemblymembers' concerns that the schools are not properly held
accountable, and that their bookkeeping is too opaque.

"We believe in keeping the Regents as the monitors of education in
our state," said Silver. "And having them drive this expansion."

Governor Paterson, who has been highly critical of the Senate and
Assembly lately, dismissed the Education Department and the Board of
Regents as creatures of the legislature, because both houses jointly
pick the Regents. The Regents then select the education commissioner.
Paterson says given the legislature's track record lately, the
federal officials might then question whether any new charter school
will ever get built.

"Thus creating a poison pill that would destroy any effectiveness of
our application," said Paterson. "Why would we be doing that?"

Speaker Silver took offense, saying the Regents and the selection
process were created in the state constitution "hundreds of years"
ago. Silver pointed out that the State University of New York could
also be viewed as a gubernatorial agency, because the governor
chooses the majority of the appointees to the board.

"That doesn't make them bad and that doesn't make them good," said
Silver. "It depends on who the governor is."

Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson said that some of his members
would also like to see SUNY have a continued role, as did Republican
leaders in each house, but Sampson says the Senate will seek other
changes that allow for greater scrutiny of the charter schools.

"We're not trying to stymie this application, governor," said
Sampson. " I want $700 million dollars. I'm not going to give that
up."

Governor Paterson agreed with lawmakers that he might not
ideologically agree with every change that President Obama and the
federal education department is asking for, in order to win the
money. But he says the state, suffering through a financial crisis,
could really use the cash, and when he sees an opportunity he's going
to take it.

"It is a day to day struggle trying to keep this state afloat," said
Paterson.

The governor and legislative leaders agreed to have their staffs work
through the weekend to draft a bill in time to meet the federal
government's deadline of 4:30 pm on Tuesday.