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January 19, 2010 - 5:26pm

State could lose federal funds over failure to OK new charter schools

posted by Howard B. Owens in legislature, schools, state.

A legislative roadblock could jeopardize New York’s ability to win a federal lottery of sorts – President Obama is ready to hand out $4.5 billion in education funding to select states that demonstrate a solid plan to improve education.

One of the criteria in Obama's "Race to the Top" competition is a commitment to increasing the number of a state's charter schools. That’s the biggest obstacle the New York Legislature faces in coming up with a winning application.

The state is heading toward a legislative package that increases the cap on charter schools from 200 to 400, but also makes it much harder to get a charter school approved. The Legislature refused to act last night on a compromise bill offered by Gov. David Paterson that would have made another 200 charter schools more likely.

Critics of the legislation – such as New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg – have blasted the Legislature for risking New York’s chance at hitting a $700 million jackpot.

Batavia City School District Superintendent Margaret Puzio is not among the critics.

First, she said, charter schools are just one of the criteria in the competition; second, charter schools are not necessarily a great thing for education.

“States may loose points (for not increasing the number of charter schools), but the bigger question is what has the state done in the past and what is it doing in the future to improve failing schools,” Puzio said. "If we have really effective public schools, we would have less need for 400 charter schools."

Charter schools, Puzio indicated, actually detract from the ability of public schools to improve.

“Charter schools are very controversial,” Puzio said. “People say that public schools are a monopoly, that they are controlled by the teachers' union, that they can’t be truly innovative. That’s just not true.”

There have been no attempts to start a charter school in Genesee County, at least as far as Puzio knows, and she's been in the area since 2002.

If there were such a school in the county, it might draw students from not only Batavia, but Elba, Pavilion, Corfu or any part of the county, and the federal dollars for each of those students would follow the students, Puzio said.

That puts public school districts at a disadvantage, Puzio said, because charter schools can be selective in their admission criteria while public schools must take all students.

“Unless they are held to the same standards, it seems unfair to take funds from public schools and give them to charter schools,” Puzio said.

The lack of interest in charter schools in Genesee County is one of the things that indicates local residents are largely satisfied with the quality of the area's public schools, Puzio said.

"My general takeaway is that what happens with school budget votes and what we see in surveys is that the people of Genesee County find our public schools are very responsive to their needs," Puzio said.

Mark Potwora
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Joined: May 14 2008 - 6:42pm
The lack of interest in charter schools in Genesee County is one of the things that indicates local residents are largely satisfied with the quality of the area's public schools, Puzio said. Is that why we have so many children that attend private religious schools in this area...Puzio is blind to the fact that if offered many would attend and make the city schools more accountable ... doesn't sound like she would want that..
John Roach
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Joined: May 29 2008 - 5:22am
Nice way to lose out on that money that might have helped keep down school taxes a little bit.

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