By Barbara A. Seals Nevergold
On Sept. 20, the Buffalo Board of Education passed a resolution seeking a state moratorium on the approval of new charters for the district. Charter school supporters have responded predictably to the board’s action by alleging that the resolution is an attempt to limit parental choice, a “misguided attack” on the charter system (present and future) or an indication of the district’s inability to compete with the supposed superior educational program offered by the charters.
In reality, the district’s resolution is a recognition that with 16 current charters and the possibility of three more next year, we have reached a saturation point that has the potential to create an inequitable situation for public school students.
Despite New York State legislation that proposes charter enrollment be capped at 5 percent of a district’s resident students, Buffalo’s charter schools enroll nearly 20 percent of local students. Buffalo has the most charter school students in the state, outside of New York City.
The request for a moratorium is not just a matter of funding and other resources that the Buffalo district is mandated to direct to charters. And it’s simplistic and misleading to suggest that the solution to the oversubscription of charter schools is a challenge to the public schools to become more competitive with the charters.
The “competition” argument is one that is specious as it presumes that the playing field on which the parties are assessed is an equal and equitable space.
The competition is inequitable when BPS is mandated to follow regulations that don’t apply to charters. The competition is inequitable when vulnerable student population groups at the charter schools do not reflect those in the public schools (e.g., as a group Buffalo charters’ English language learner population is 4 percent as compared with 16 percent in the BPS, and students with disabilities comprise 11 percent of the charter population compared with 22 percent in the BPS). The competition is inequitable when charters are allowed to return students who don’t meet their “standards” to the public schools (those students don’t contribute to the charter accountability stats, e.g., graduation, even if they’re returned close to the end of the school year). The competition is inequitable when the Buffalo School District has little input in the decision process that establishes charter schools and lacks authority to hold them accountable.
Under the leadership of Superintendent Kriner Cash and guided by the district’s strategic New Education Bargain, Buffalo Public Schools are seeing positive, incremental movement in student achievement.
The goal of the moratorium is not to impact current charter schools but to establish a period of stability that supports the gains the district is making. This resolution raises legitimate questions about the impact of charters on the BPS. Our request is a plea for equity and at the very least should initiate a conversation on its merits.
Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, Ph.D., is president of the Buffalo Board of Education.