Even opponents of charter schools got a piece of good news in this year's state budget process, as a doubling of the statewide charter allotment to 200 was coupled to new transition aid funding that will provide Buffalo with $12 million next school year. By all accounts, that's a good first step.
The doubling of the cap gives charter school proponents several years to add schools and add quality to what charter schools offer. As Peter Murphy of the New York Charter Schools Association said, there is enough administrative and statutory rigor, and enough safeguards, to argue that a cap is unwarranted. But raising the cap to 200 allows room for both expansion and further evaluation.
The transition aid, along with huge overall increases in state education funding, should soften the blow for school districts that lose much of the per-pupil aid when children shift from public to charter schools. The $12 million in transition aid is designed to ease the impact of future student shifts, although it won't help districts recover costs for students who already have left.
School districts should be heartened by this first-ever response to the funding impact problem by the Spitzer administration, the Division of Budget and the State Legislature, including work by Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo.
The loss of per-pupil aid has put a squeeze on districts, an expense Buffalo School District Chief Financial Officer Gary M. Crosby has calculated for the city system. The difference between the drain and the $12 million in aid comes to about $28 million, he said.
The city district now is working on an alternate formula that better addresses that drain and how costs are being incurred. The real answer for school districts, though, lies in responding to the competitive challenge that charter schools are intended to provide -- and to provide results that keep pupils in district school chairs because of the quality of education received. Meanwhile, the lifting of the cap is a major step in giving families more school choice.