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State budget gives charter schools an increase in aid, too

The nearly 700 school districts across the state weren’t the only winners in the new state budget.

New York’s charter schools saw a much-needed boost in funding, too.

The new state budget increases support for charter schools statewide by an estimated $430 per pupil for the 2016-17 school year, raising the per-pupil average to an estimated $14,457, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office.

Charter school advocates called it a “big win.”

“We are pleased that state leaders saw through the noise of the ‘edu-stablishment’ and increased funding for all public schools statewide – including charter schools,” said Kyle Rosenkrans, chief executive officer of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, an advocacy organization for the more than 250 charter schools in New York and Connecticut.

Roughly 9,500 students attend the 16 charter schools in Erie County (14 in Buffalo), according to figures from the state and Northeast Charter Schools Network.

The funding formula for charter schools was frozen in 2010, however, and the state has provided charters with incremental increases in aid since 2014.

In fact, the charters have been lobbying hard for an increase in state aid given they typically receive 75 percent of what traditional public schools get per pupil, according to the advocacy group. The disparity is even steeper in Buffalo, where the charters receive roughly 60 cents for every dollar that goes to city-run schools, the group added.

“Charter school students are public school students and they, too, deserve the support of the people who represent them in Albany,” Rosenkrans said. “This budget shows charter families from New York City to Buffalo and everywhere in between that lawmakers are listening to what is important to them and that their voices matter.”

The estimated 3 percent increase in funding for charter schools is still lower than the 6.5 percent increase in aid to school districts statewide, the advocacy group noted.

Still, Rosenkrans said, the state budget was actually a double victory for charter schools. Not only did it advance their funding needs, but it killed legislation that would have hurt the charter school movement, he said.

The Assembly’s budget bill proposed damaging components, the advocacy group said, from placing more mandates on charters to limiting the ability to hire uncertified teaching staff. Proposals also focused on enrollment and retention of “high-need” students, which would have closed schools for failing to meet standards.

If those provisions had made it into the budget, they would have “literally starved the schools to death across the state,” Rosenkrans said.

The still-unfinished business for charters is to find a solution to help with school buildings, Rosenkrans said.

Most charter schools, except for many in New York City, don’t get money from the state for facilities costs like traditional public schools do.