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Editorial: School Board should give up attempt to restrict charter schools

The request by the Buffalo Board of Education for a three-year moratorium on charter schools is nothing short of outrageous.

It should be soundly rejected by the State University of New York and the state Board of Regents, the two entities authorizing charters.

Buffalo Public Schools have marginally improved recently, and there is more hope for the future under the leadership of Superintendent Kriner Cash. Graduation rates and grade point averages are up, as are scores on standardized achievement tests.

Still, just 18 percent of students were considered proficient in English language arts, with 17 percent proficient in math. The district is clearly still failing too many of its 34,000 students.

Thousands of parents have recognized this sad fact of education in Buffalo and have moved their children to charter schools. Charters are public schools that are free of some of the regulations governing district schools. That flexibility has led to improved outcomes at some, but not all, charters.

With an estimated 9,000 students already in Buffalo’s charter schools – up about 2,000 in the past three years – it is apparent that many families are desperate for another educational option.

Limiting the ability of parents to place their children in charter schools will not solve the district’s educational problems. What it might do is ease the district’s financial gaps, which is the board’s goal in fighting charters.

The district watches as funding follows students to their new charter schools. It pays the charter per pupil and that amount has reached nearly $124 million, roughly 14 percent of the district’s general fund. District funding to charters is up by more than $14 million from last year as a result of new charters. The district also pays transportation and special education services.

The district’s loss of funding is only going to grow. In addition to the two new charters that opened this year, three are due to open next year and the state is considering applications from three more. The School Board wants to stop the bleeding by seeking a three-year moratorium, and when that expires allow new ones only if the School Board approves.

Charters are not an educational panacea. Standardized test scores in math and English showed them with about 27 percent proficiency – better, but still not good enough. There have been some charter schools that have failed to live up to their charters and been closed by the state. That is the state’s proper role in regulating charters, not allowing the School Board to reject new ones out of hand.

Imposing a moratorium on the number of charters is not the solution. The ideal way for the school district to reduce the number of students in charters and reclaim that state aid is to significantly raise the level of education in the city. Beat the competition by delivering higher-quality education to students and the need for charter schools will drop.

The School Board has spent much of the year in a bitter, and ultimately successful, struggle to oust Park District member Carl Paladino. Now is not the time to start another divisive battle with families who want a better education for their childen.

Change is coming slowly to the Buffalo schools. The competition from charters should spur more improvement, not plots to sabotage charter opportunities. It is hard to imagine how the School Board’s maneuvering will benefit schoolchildren.

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