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RALLY PROMOTES CHARTER SCHOOLS

Allies of charter schools came to Albany on Tuesday to hail the alternative educational settings and protest legislative budget cuts in funding to establish more charter schools across the state.

"Our children have a right to a high quality education, and these cutbacks will have an impact on them being able to receive the quality of education that we as parents and grandparents desire for our children," said Joyce D. Hicks, who joined a busload of charter school advocates from Buffalo and Rochester to press lawmakers to expand opportunities for the schools.

"We stand behind our charter schools," said Hicks, whose grandson and niece have attended Stepping Stone Charter School in Buffalo.

The group gathered in Albany a week after the Legislature passed the state budget that reduced spending on charter schools by $6 million.

The cuts, $2 million from the State University of New York's Charter School Institute and $4 million in charter school grants, will slow charter school openings, advocates fear.

State lawmakers, many of whom oppose charter schools, say the cuts were part of an overall reduction in state aid this year on education.

Despite the cuts in one program, however, charter schools came out all right in state aid for operating established classroom programs because of the unique funding formula for the schools, which bases aid on a local school district's spending per pupil three years prior to the current academic year.

Bill Phillips, head of the New York Charter Schools Association, said Tuesday's event was designed to press for changes to ease creation of and attendance at charter schools.

He said the charter school movement continues to expand, growing to 38 schools with 11,000 students from three schools with 800 students four years ago.

In Buffalo, demand is exceeding the number of charter school slots; the schools can take one student for every 1.4 applications, according to Phillips.

The advocates also pressed for a package of bills introduced by Assemblymen Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, whose son attends a charter school, and Roger Green, D-Brooklyn.

The Hoyt bills, introduced last month, would let charter schools use the state Dormitory Authority to help finance school construction.

Another measure would regionalize charter schools to broaden the base of eligible students.

The Green bills include lifting the present limit on charter schools and allowing mayors and county executives to issue charters.

Critics, who include leaders of public schools and teachers unions, say charter schools take money from traditional public schools.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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