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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Charter Schools succeed big in NYC -- politicians attack!

Big test score gains by students in NYC's charter schools are big-story news today in almost all the city's newspapers, including The News...

Charter school test scores top public school kids - again

It was a great day to celebrate for charter school supporters - and also to score political points. The results of standardized math and reading tests released Monday showed charters, on average, outperformed their public school counterparts...

"This is not a fluke," said James Merriman of the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence. "This is the fifth year in a row that charters have outperformed the district"...
and The Post...

Charters Score: Outperform Again In NYC

The latest New York state achievement exams once again give charter-school students, parents and staff reason to be proud...

The performance-gap on these exams has steadily widened over the last three years, reaching double-digit margins this year.

and The Sun

Charter Schools Outperform Districts

When compared to the overall scores for the school districts in which they are located, some charter schools such as Bronx Preparatory in the South Bronx and the KIPP Infinity school in Harlem had as much as double the portion of students scoring proficient in math and reading....
Only our paper of record, the NY Times, deemed the story not among "all the news that's fit to print".

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How do the charter schools achieve this success? By spending less money (.pdf) than other, traditional public schools...

New York City charter schools have fewer public resources than traditional public schools. This funding disparity exists at all educational levels elementary, middle, and high school and for students in both general and special education...

... the difference in [per pupil] funding between charter schools and traditional public schools ranges from $500 to almost $8,000 depending on grade level and special education status. In all instances, charter schools receive fewer resources than traditional public schools ...
Hey, bettter results for less money!

So, of course, the politicians are rushing to embrace charter schools for the children, and for the taxpayers too, right? Well, not quite...

New Assault On NY Charters

With a stroke of a pen, a single judge in Albany last month cost the state's public charter schools millions of dollars. It's the latest special-interest assault on charter schools: force them to spend more money on services such as painting, cleaning and construction.

Justice Michael Lynch, a trial judge in Albany County ... ordered every charter in the state to start paying union-level wages to its janitorial and maintenance contractors .. [an] order is especially rough on charters trying to rehab or build schools - because it mandates union construction wages.

Yet the order is illegal on its face: The 1998 law that first permitted the formation of public charter schools in New York explicitly exempted them from any state mandates except those concerning health, safety and civil rights. And, at the time the law was passed, everyone concerned understood that this meant that "prevailing wage" laws didn't apply to charters.

The state's Labor Law defines "prevailing wage" as the local union scale, which is anywhere from 38 percent more to double the cost, depending on the locality. It applies to most government entities, including school districts, and is one reason New York's taxes are so high.

But New York law also provides about 30 percent less funding for charters than for traditional public schools - including virtually no money for construction. Exempting charters from rules such as prevailing-wage was a universally understood trade-off to partly make up for the funding shortfall.

Indeed, that understanding has remained ever since. That's why union-friendly lawmakers have introduced bills that would apply such laws to charters virtually ever year for the last decade.

Of course, special interests are happy to get their way any way they can. They brought suit to force the mandate in 2000, with the support of then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, but were shot down at trial in Onondaga County (Syracuse).

The next bid to end-run the law came last year - after Spitzer had become governor. His labor commissioner, Patricia Smith, ordered charters across the state to start paying "prevailing wages." Several charters and charter-supporting groups ... sued - and lost last month in Albany County court.

Bizarrely, after pages of legal sophistry, Justice Lynch didn't even explain the key aspect of his ruling -- he wrote simply that "the court declines to find" that charters' exemption from state mandates applies to labor law.

Out the window goes a decade of evenhanded, fair-market pay scales agreed to by charters and their contractors. The appeal will take months, if not years...
A story also reported in the WSJ, NYC's other remaining newspaper.
New York's Novel Way to Kill Charter Schools

... Before prevailing wages were imposed, Elmwood Village Charter School ... in the Allentown section of Buffalo, was able to renovate a long-abandoned building, helping to revitalize the neighborhood.

"There is no way we could afford this state-of-the-art building and serve our students if we were forced to pay another 25% [because of] prevailing wage," John Sheffield, the school's director, said. "There wouldn't be a charter school here, and our kids would remain in district schools at an academic disadvantage, frankly."

In Albany, the Brighter Choice Foundation built a KIPP charter middle school -- absent prevailing wage -- for less than $7 million. It took only nine months and won praise from Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who said, "It's a beautiful facility, one that anyone would be proud to send a child to."

By contrast, the Albany school district spent about $40 million to build a new middle school, thanks to prevailing-wage and other mandates.

The Brighter Choice Foundation wants to build other charter schools, including Albany's first public all-girls high school. That will be much more difficult if it has to adhere to prevailing-wage mandates. "If they don't fix this, artificially higher costs will guarantee that fewer students in needy urban districts will be ready for college," said Chris Bender, the foundation's director...

Prevailing wage is one way to stop the charter revolution in its tracks...
But the Times remains mute about this too.

OK, we all know the Times doesn't care about taxpayers ... but is it so indifferent to the children as well?