New York: Oppose Charter School Cap Increase

Currently, New York State limits the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 460. In 1998, when the state passed its charter school law, the numerical limit was 100. The law has been amended three times since 1998 to not only increase the number of charter schools allowed in the state but to also further lower the standards of accountability and transparency required of privately-operated charter schools.

Putting aside the issues of inflated charter school waiting lists, widespread corruption, discriminatory enrollment practices, high teacher turnover rates, and the fact that 50 charter schools have closed in New York State over the past 20 years, this dramatic neoliberal expansion in the number of charter schools allowed in the state has produced serious problems for public schools and charter schools themselves. The biggest problem has been charter schools depriving public schools of billions of dollars in public funds, resources, and facilities while delivering unimpressive results on several levels. It is also worth noting that with black and Hispanic students making up more than 90 percent of the students enrolled in New York City’s charter schools, these schools are some of the most segregated in the country. Such a setup not only undermines public education but also harms the economy, society, and the national interest.

While nearly 400 charter schools have been authorized to date, about 325 were open in 2020-2021. New York City alone is home to about 265 charter schools. The City reached its charter school limit in March 2019. About 92 open/unused charter school slots remain available outside New York City. There are other statistics pertaining to charter schools in New York State that account for why these numbers don’t always round up evenly (e.g., the number of “conversion” charter schools established in the state over the years), but these are reliable numbers to go by. The main issue is the statewide cap on charter schools and how this is currently affecting New York City in particular.

Not surprisingly, major owners of capital are once again deploying a pitch fork mentality to bully legislators, leaders, and state and city officials to override the public interest and increase the cap on charter schools allowed in New York City. For neoliberals and privatizers there are few pay-the-rich schemes more profitable than deregulated charter schools run by unelected individuals. Owning and operating more segregated charter schools is critical for owners of capital desperately trying to counteract the law of the falling rate of profit. The neoliberal restructuring of state laws is critical to maximizing profit as fast as possible, regardless of how damaging this is to the natural and social environment. Neoliberals and privatizers want laws changed in order to advance their narrow private interests at the expense of the common good—and all of this ruinous activity is carried out under the veneer of high ideals (e.g., “empowering parents” and offering “choices”).

While preventing a rise in the number of charter schools allowed in New York State is a good thing, it would be immensely better if no public funds, resources, and buildings found their way into the hands of charter school owners and operators. These public resources are produced by working people and belong to the public, not narrow private interests. Capitalist firms like Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) and Education Management Organizations (EMOs) should not have access to public funds and resources that belong to the public. Ending the flow of public funds, resources, and facilities to the private interests that operate non-profit and for-profit charter schools would greatly benefit public schools, society, the economy, and the national interest.

The public should remain vigilant about the non-stop effort by pro-privatization fanatics to push for an increase in the number of charter schools allowed in the state and city. No one should be fooled by their grandstanding and twisted logic. Now is the time to declare a moratorium on all new charter schools and to ensure that public funds, resources, and facilities remain in public hands only.

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at Read other articles by Shawgi.