New York Previews the Virginia Politics of Charter Schools

Success Academy kids in line entering their NYC school. Courtesy NY Post. Credit Steven Yang

by James C. Sherlock

I am no stranger to writing about charter schools in Virginia.

The half-dozen or so we have in the state have no effect, and expansion is blocked by the fact that charters in Virginia have to be approved by division school boards.

Which are elected by teachers, not students.

The result, very predictably, is that the places that need them most, the horrible schools in Virginia’s minority-majority cities, have exactly one charter. Total.

Charter school politics among the progressive minority politicians who dominate those school boards match that of the Democratic majorities in both houses of the New York State Assembly. For the same reasons.

New York City, as written about in an extensive series by the New York Post, illustrates both the advantages and the political challenges of charter schools in an urban environment.

The people of that heavily Democratic city have exceptional experiences with and have created long waiting lists for the 275 public charter schools already operating in the city that enroll 142,500 students (with tens of thousands on waiting lists), 15% of all public school kids in the city.

Voters polled want more charter schools by a ratio of two to one.

Every New York Governor since George Pataki has supported charter schools. Former Gov. David Paterson, a Democrat, pushed through a charter school expansion with the backing of then-President Barack Obama.

Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul is proposing as many as 100 more in her budget.

She ran on a pro-charter platform. She won by 6% against a Republican candidate who also supported increasing the current cap (275 in NYC, 460 statewide) on charter schools.

From the NY Post:

Roughly 80% of charter students are from low-income families, and 90% of them are black or Latino, according to the non-profit Charter Center.

You would think her proposal for charter school expansion would sail through the New York State Assembly, with Democratic super-majorities in both houses.

You would be wrong.

Black students excel in public charter schools in NYC at rates unimaginable in the other city public schools. At half the cost.

…city charters spend just $17,626 per student compared to the $35,941 spent on each public student.

Courtesy NY Post

Yet, led by minority members of the New York State Assembly, many of whom have their own kids in private schools, the Assembly looks set to block the proposal.

They are driven by the New York City United Federation of Teachers, which loses roughly one member’s dues for every two dozen kids who move to a charter. One of their 140,000 members for 906,000 public school kids.

Note the current teacher salary schedule that does not include the costs of benefits, payroll taxes, and other costs. Do the math on that to figure out why NYC spends nearly $36,000 per year per public school student.

The UFT is representing the interests of the adults in the system, not the kids.

Gov. Pataki, asked by the New York Post if it is racist to not increase the number of charters, responded “Absolutely! It’s immoral.”

See how that works, my progressive friends? Sauce for the goose.

But the very deep-pocketed UFT and its statewide counterparts own and operate the leadership of the Assembly. The betting line is that Hochul’s proposal has little chance.

Bottom line. In Virginia, we need a state constitutional amendment to permit charters, as in New York, to be issued by organizations that are not school boards.

As long as Democrats control even one house of the General Assembly, there is no chance of such an amendment making it to the voters. So, as long as school boards in minority-run cities obsessively oppose charters for their own children, many minority kids are damned by that obstruction.

And most Democrats know it.

And don’t care.