What the Charter Bill Does (Pt. 1): Raising the Cap and Killing Zombies

After the New York State Senate voted to approve S.7678, a compromise charter school bill that Charter Center supported, it’s worth reviewing what’s actually in the legislation. So here’s the first in a series of explanatory posts.

For an overview of the bill, read the Charter Center’s support memo here. The full bill is here.

The bill’s most prominent provision is, of course, the cap lift. Lifting the statewide cap on charter schools would help charters meet more of the overwhelming parent demand and help win up to $700 million in the Race to the Top (RTTT). The prize money would be split between statewide reform efforts–such as deeper tests and sharper teacher training–and direct aid to all public schools, traditional or charter. (For more background on the cap and RTTT, read on here and here.)

S.7678, and the identical Assembly bill A.10928, would raise the cap from its present, nearly-exhausted limit of 200 charters statewide, to 460.* That number matters because it represents 10% of all public schools in the state, high enough to earn New York maximum points in this category in RTTT.

The bill also makes an important correction to the way charters are counted against the cap. Under present law, a charter counts against the cap even if the school closes, or never opens. For example, Reach Charter School of East Harlem was shut down in 2002 by NYC’s then-Chancellor Harold Levy. Yet it still counts against charter cap today.

There are a dozen such “zombie” charters still lurking about. In addition to distorting the public debate, they give charter school authorizers an incentive to hesitate before closing a poorly run school.

S.7678 would fix this glitch so that a closed school’s charter could be re-issued without cap consequences. That way, authorizers would not have to be conscious of permanently shrinking the charter school sector with every closure, and the cap would only apply to non-zombie schools.

NEXT: Improving Transparency

*Conversion charter schools don’t count against the cap.