Will this be the year we become One New York?

I recently moved home to Western New York and was shocked to learn that of the Big 5 school districts in New York State, Rochester is at the very bottom of the barrel for student achievement. The percentage of kids who can read and write and do math according to their grade level is in the single digits! It isn’t that much better in Buffalo, where not even 12 percent of third through eighth graders were proficient in English, and just 15 percent were proficient in Math.

We must do better.

If the Governor and lawmakers want to invest in what works, they should invest more in public charter schools. For thousands of children, charter schools are a beacon of hope in districts where performance is abysmal. In both Rochester and Buffalo, waiting lists to get into a charter are at close to 4,000 - clearing showing parent demand. 

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But to grow and succeed, charters need the state to fix some key policy problems. Funding has been a major challenge for charters after years with either no funding increase or minimal improvements.  And at the heart of the issue is the denial of aid for charter school buildings in Rochester and Buffalo - despite the fact that many NYC charter schools do receive such support.

That’s why I’m now working to mobilize charter school teachers, parents, board members and community supporters to stand up and demand a solution from Governor Cuomo and state leaders. We recently stood together with charter schools in Buffalo and Rochester to demand that lawmakers hear us – parents and charter high school students registered to vote, emailed, called, Tweeted and Facebooked their elected leaders. Families, students and teachers are demanding fairness from those who represent them in Albany.

This city’s charter schools are fed up with being treated as less-than. Rochester charter kids only receive 68 cents on the dollar compared to kids in district schools. In Buffalo, charter kids are treated as 3/5 – receiving only 60 cents on the dollar compared to district students.

In 2014, major progress was made when a law was passed that guaranteed space or funding for charter schools in New York City that were new or expanding. However, this law left out ALL of the charters schools outside of New York City.

That omission included Western New York and it still hasn’t been fixed. Sadly, this is not surprising when you consider how often the upstate so often is forgotten in Albany, but it’s disappointing nonetheless when you consider how serious the crisis is here.

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But the solution for charters is within our reach. For the last few years the State Senate Majority has introduced legislation that would help charters afford their buildings. We just need Governor Cuomo and the Assembly to take it up this year.

When Governor Cuomo presented his budget proposal to the people of the state – which happened to be my first day with the Northeast Charter Schools Network – he said we are “One New York” – from New York City to Rochester and Buffalo, we’re all New Yorkers, and all deserving of the state’s support. I was thrilled to hear this message of inclusion.

I hope the Governor and other lawmakers know, however, talk isn’t enough. It isn’t enough for the families of children who are desperate for a great public school education. It isn’t enough for the charter schools who are denied fair funding year after year after year. 

This is the year that Governor Cuomo and other lawmakers can make good on their promise of “One New York”.  Our charter school educators, families, and children are watching and waiting.

Duncan is the Western New York Advocacy Manager for the Northeast Charter Schools Network.
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Will this be the year we become One New York?
Will this be the year we become One New York?
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