Oppose charter school package: teachers to Phillips

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A child holds a sign at a protest against increased state support for charter schools in Mineola on Friday, March 24, 2017. (Photo by Noah Manskar)

About 100 teachers and education activists gathered in Mineola on Friday to protest the state Senate’s proposal to boost charter school funding.

The protest at state Sen. Elaine Phillips’ office called on the Flower Hill Republican to oppose the plan, which they said would divert millions of dollars in state funding from public schools.

“Public schools are for public school, and we educate all kids no matter where they come from,” said Stacy Leckler of Mineola, a teacher in the Westbury school district.

The GOP-controlled Senate’s one-house 2017-18 budget, approved March 15, would require school districts to reimburse certain expenses paid by charter schools, which are privately operated but at least partially funded by the state and school districts.

The Senate budget would also remove a rule capping on the number of charter schools allowed to operate at 460, and make charters’ building projects eligible for state funding.

Teachers and advocates at Friday’s rally said they oppose charter schools because they divert funding from already struggling public schools and are not accountable state education officials.

New York State United Teachers, a statewide teachers union, has called the package “a nearly $350 million gift to the charter industry,” saying the reimbursement provision would cost local school districts $124 million.

“Funneling money away from public schools is not how you [advocate] for a community is centered around public schools,” said Jeanette Brunelle-Deutermann, a leader of Long Island’s movement protesting state tests based on the federal Common Core curriculum.

A political action committee funded by StudentsFirst, a pro-charter school group, spent $2.6 million on Phillips’ behalf in her state Senate race last year against Democrat Adam Haber, a Roslyn school board trustee whom NYSUT spent $655,000 to support.

Supporters of charter schools say they offer better options for students in poor, struggling public schools who could not otherwise get a strong education.

The state Senate budget would also increase need-based aid to public schools by $478 million, double what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed, according to a Senate news release.

Some 267 charter schools currently serve 92,000 students across the state, according to the state Education Department.

Only two are in Nassau County: Academy Charter School in Hempstead and Roosevelt Children’s Academy in Roosevelt.

Phillips has not taken a public stance on charter schools or whether they should be allowed to expand.

In a statement, Chris Schneider, a Phillips spokesman, did not address charter schools but noted that the Senate’s state budget would increase aid to public schools by $1.2 billion over the current year.

Senator Phillips will keep fighting to bring home as much state aid as possible to local schools because she has always, and will always, put her constituents’ needs first,” Schneider said.

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