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Charter schools are given a break State budget allots Buffalo $12 million

Charter schools were big winners in the state budget sweepstakes.

The statewide cap on the number of charter schools was doubled to 200. That allows the State University of New York and the state Board of Regents -- previously constrained by the lower cap -- to once again license new charter schools.

In addition, efforts to limit the growth and lower the financing of charter schools were defeated.

"The victory here is that you'll have more charter schools and that the law remains largely intact," said Peter Murphy, policy director for the New York Charter Schools Association. "The message will get out that we're now back in business."

At the same time, districts with large concentrations of charter schools -- including Buffalo -- got some fiscal relief after arguing for years that they suffer under the existing funding formula.

A newly created pool of "transition aid" will provide Buffalo $12 million next school year to cushion the $60 million the district makes in transfer payments to 15 charter schools.

Even so, Buffalo school officials said they would need to recover an additional $28 million to equalize transfer payments with savings the district realizes from the loss of students to charter schools. In addition, the transition aid is scheduled to be phased out over the next three years, said Gary M. Crosby, chief operations and financial officer for the Buffalo schools.

But both Crosby and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who was instrumental in lifting the cap, said the transition aid signals Albany's willingness to help districts with lots of charter schools.

"Is $12 million enough?" said Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat. "No. But it's a good start and the first acknowledgment by the state that there is a fiscal impact and that we have some responsibility."

Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer said charter school funding will be re-examined in future years.

"It certainly is something we should continue to discuss," he said of claims that Buffalo and other districts are being shortchanged. "We need to remedy that."

Spitzer said that existing charter schools have met with mixed success but that the movement should be allowed to grow.

"The idea is not that every school will succeed," he said. "The idea is that we're promoting competition."

Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, said the BTF will continue to lobby for a separate source of funding for charter schools. "We have to make sure we stop the hemorrhaging," he said.

The New York State Association of School Boards failed in an effort to keep the cap at 100 schools pending a study of academic results at existing charter schools.

"They said these were going to be incubators of educational innovation," said David Ernst, a spokesman for the group. "We frankly haven't seen the innovation."

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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