NY law blocks Harlem charter school due to enrollment regs
A poison pill inserted in the state budget could prevent New York City’s oldest poverty fighting group from opening a charter school in Harlem, The…
A poison pill inserted in the state budget could prevent New York City’s oldest poverty fighting group from opening a charter school in Harlem, The Post has learned.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Legislature reached a deal to allow 14 new charter schools to open in the city. But there’s one significant catch: a new charter school cannot be placed in any city community school district where 55% of the students are already enrolled in the publicly-funded alternative schools.
Central Harlem, home to District 5, appears to be the only location in the city where most students are already enrolled in charter schools than traditional public schools. About 59 percent of students in Harlem attend charter schools.
That means the Mission Society’s proposed Minisink charter school, which received preliminary state OK to open several years ago, could be blocked from opening a K-to-5 charter school in its own building at Malcolm X. Blvd. and 142nd Street.
Mission Society CEO Elise McCabe-Thompson said the action in Albany was a gut punch to Harlemites.
“As it stands, I can’t open the Minisink charter school, ” said Mission Society CEO Elsie McCabe-Thompson.
“On behalf of central Harlem parents, I’m saddened and disappointed. I’m saddened that there’s been an effort to limit parent choice, to keep a school like Minisink from opening.”
McCabe-Thompson said the Mission Society serves mostly poor black and Hispanic youths — as would its charter school — and the organization itself is run by minorities.
Founded in 1812, the Harlem-based Mission Society is based at the original site of the prohibition-era Cotton Club.
She said housing the charter school in the Mission Society’s Harlem headquarters was a key part of the education program, providing savings to limit class sizes to 12 or less.
Minisink may not be able to replicate that vision if it has to lease space elsewhere, she said.
“We were going to have 12 students or less in a classroom! I can’t imagine parents wouldn’t like that. That’s smaller than in private schools,” she said.
The State University of New York, one of the state’s charter school authorizers, had approved the Mission Society’s bid to open a charter school in 2019.
A SUNY official said its reading of the the law bars Minisink charter school from opening — at least in Harlem’s District 5.
NYC Charter School CEO James Merriman blasted the 55% enrollment cap as a poison pill.
“It’s sad that there should be any `price to pay’ in order for more good public schools to be allowed to start. We should be working together to make it easier, not putting up nonsensical barriers,” Merriman said.
“Last time I looked at the data, more than 60% of students who live in central Harlem declined to attend CSD 5 district schools. No artificial barrier is going to make them change their minds.”
Sources said state Sen. Cordell Cleare, a charter school critic and Democrat who represents Harlem, pushed for the 55 percent charter school enrollment cap to prevent more of the alternative schools from opening in her district.
“That exclusion successfully advocated by Senator Cleare with overwhelming support of legislators is necessary to avoid further aggravating a charter-oversaturation that directly imperils the public school system,” said Sen. John Liu (D-Queens), a charter school critic who chairs the legislative body’s committee on New York City education.
Cleare had no immediate comment.
Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed eliminating the regional cap to allow up to 100 new charter school slots available in other parts of the state to open in New York City as part of her executive budget. There are 275 charter schools currently operating the city, and the cap blocked expansion.
But fierce opposition from the anti-charter teachers’ union and their allies in the legislature blocked that proposal.
As a compromise, they agreed to reissue 14 unused or “zombie” charter school licenses for schools from schools that closed or never got off the ground.
But 55% enrollment cap was attached to the deal.
Albany agreed to open more charter schools in New York following a pro-charter advocacy campaign waged by The Post.
The Post series pointed out that students in charter schools, which have a longer school day and year, typically outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools on the state’s standardized Math and English Language Arts tests — often at a lesser cost per student.
Asked Monday about the enrollment cap, Hochul’s office referred The Post to comments she made last week about the compromise on charter schools.
“There is a cap passed by the legislature of a limit of how many can open in New York City and the rest of the state. So, is it everything we asked for? No. But it’s more than we’ve had since 2015. So it’s a start. That’s something we were told would not be able to happen,” Hochul said on Fox 5’s Good Day New York program.
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