Fred LeBrun writes a column for the Albany Times-Union on politics. He is one of the most insightful journalists in the nation on the subject of education.
The New York state budget was late this year because of disagreement over a tax break for real estate developers, whether to raise the minimum age for criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, and how much money to throw to charter schools. The State Senate will vote on the budget deal tonight. The Republicans and Governor Cuomo are in love with the charter school lobby, despite the fact that charters in the state capitol of Albany–where the Legislature meets–have been a terrible disappointment. They can see the evidence before their eyes that charters open with grandiose promises and close without a whimper. That doesn’t matter.
In the tentative budget deal announced Friday night, all three made it through. No great surprise there. Charters were enriched by about $50 million, according to the governor. Hardly enough to call it a budget deal breaker, though. Raise the Age will be done in steps, and that’s an excellent outcome. Kudos to the governor. Real estate moguls are smiling.
But what is amusing to consider is that two out of three issues, if you want to call them that, supposedly holding up budget passage have a commonality. Reviving the expired 421-a real estate development tax credit, which admittedly drives growth and affordable housing, is also an unabashed windfall to real estate developers, who themselves are among the most generous political donors to our governor and legislature. The political donors benefit directly from the legislation.
It’s not the charter schools I referenced above that hold the power, and certainly not the 122,000 or so young New Yorkers who attend them, predominantly in New York City. It’s the relative few billionaire hedge fund investors in charters looking for the return on their investment who would have the ability to hold up our budget until they get theirs. Because they in turn have become generous contributors to the governor and the Republican Senate. Again, the political donors benefit directly from the actions the governor and senators take on their behalf.
I can hear the charter crowd screaming that they are also public schools, because it says so in the legislation creating them. That’s a lot of hooey, as Albanians certainly well know. They are private schools masquerading as public schools. And until the day comes, if ever, that you the taxpayer vote on the boards running charters funded in your school district, and yearly vote where every dollar is to be spent, as happens across the state with real public schools, then charters are bogus public schools.
At its peak, Albany taxpayers, without representation on charter school boards or budgets, were shelling out $30 million a year on these bogus public schools. Yet please show me how the charter movement benefited public education in Albany appropriate to the extra money spent.
Charters are under the protection of certain politicians. Why is simple enough, and has not much to do with “ideological” considerations. Just follow the money.
In the last election cycle, according to New York State United Teachers, the state’s powerful teacher’s union, the governor and Senate majority received $4.5 million from the charter school-oriented political action committee, New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany, and more than $11 million since 2014. That’s private dollar contributions to politicians in exchange for directing taxpayer dollars their way.
And as investments go, you can’t beat it. New York taxpayers shell out $2 billion a year to these private charter school investors.
Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s one-house revenue bill this year featured a half-billion dollars a year more for charters. Now, granted, there was no real expectation this bill would pass, but it does reveal intentions and a wish list. Flanagan wanted to reward charter contributors. So did the governor, whose “compromise” over charter funding was to throw an additional windfall at charters without lifting a tuition freeze that would lead to an even greater windfall. All of it is money that ought to be going to traditional, chronically underfunded public schools.
Enriching charters schools is not the direction a progressive state like New York should be following, no matter what new pressures in Washington suggest. The developing community school movement, a holistic approach to fighting under performing public schools primarily in impoverished urban districts, is a far more likely candidate. There’s only so much money for public education, and we as a state have to decide where we want to invest. Charters are nothing but an expensive distraction.
The last time state legislators got a pay raise was during Republican Gov. George Pataki’s first term. The raise was in exchange for welcoming charter schools to New York.
That was a black day that has haunted us since. What started as supposedly an “experiment,” that began as an annoyance, has graduated to a genuine irritation. Now charters are unquestionably imbedded across the country in our secondary education system and we have to learn to live with it. Do they have a place? Of course. But let those who want them pay for them, but not with my money.
from sarah http://ift.tt/2oTWlbt