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Politicians, it’s time to lift your ‘cap’ to success of charter schools

When Albany passed legislation to allow the creation of charter schools in 1998, it came with a string attached: Only 100 could open. Why? Legislators wanted to see whether charters could fulfill the goals of “improv[ing] student learning and achievement” and “expand[ing] choices.” 

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On both counts, charter schools have been a huge success. 

Black charter-school students pass the state math exams at twice the rate as their district school peers and pass the English test at 1½ times the rate. Graduates of New York’s leading charter-school networks, where at least 75% of students are eligible for subsidized lunch, are earning four-year college degrees at four times the rate of their similarly low-income peers nationally. 

Also important is the diversity of choices charters offer families. Public Prep and Uncommon operate single-sex schools. The Autism Charter Schools serve students with these special needs. The Bronx Charter School for the Arts and the New York City Charter School of the Arts place a special emphasis on art instruction. The Classical and Hellenic Classical Charter Schools teach classical studies including Latin and Greek. The Hebrew Language and French-American charter schools have dual language programs. The Wildflower and Montessori charter schools offer instruction based on the Montessori philosophy. The Earl Monroe New Renaissance Basketball School will provide a pathway for students who seek careers in various fields related to the basketball business. 

The State University of New York’s Charter Schools Institute’s analysis found that CUNY charter chapter students in New York City scored significantly higher on their standardized testing than their neighboring traditional public school peers.
Gabriella Bass

50,000 kids left out 

Different families have different needs, aspirations and philosophies. One size doesn’t fit all. That’s why it doesn’t make sense to have public schools run by a single district monopoly. 

Currently, there are 11 potential charter schools that can’t open in the city, including one aimed at helping struggling students at risk of dropping out and other disadvantaged kids in Queens, as well as one seeking to replicate a successful Math Engineering and Academy Charter School in Bushwick. They, too, are blocked by the charter cap. 

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Charter acceptance and popularity has grown beyond just those families whose children benefit directly from them. In a survey of New York City Democrats conducted last year, 70% said more charter schools should open, with higher support among black voters (73%) and Hispanics (75%). In the city’s mayoral primary in June, pro-charter candidates collected two-thirds of the vote. 

For affluent parents, choice in where they send their kids to school is a given, whether that’s affording a home in a “good neighborhood,” moving to the suburbs or paying private school tuition. In disadvantaged neighborhoods, charter schools offer choice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it. Which is why parent demand is off the charts. 

Parents, schoolchildren and education activists rally during an event supporting public charter schools.
A cap on charter schools keeps at least 11 options from opening for students in New York City.
Getty Images

If not for the cap, almost 50,000 kids now on charter-school waitlists would be able to have that choice. 

A generation of New York City children has been educated in charter schools. The bar has been met. It is time to eliminate the charter cap and let innovation and opportunity expand. 

Eva Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of the Success Academy Charter Schools. 

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