By Eric Klapper
As New Yorkers turned out to vote in November, a new majority in Albany took hold of the upper chamber and achieved a new and rare alignment of power. At Tapestry Charter School, we teach our children that with power and opportunity comes an enormous responsibility to serve others through a lens of equity and social justice.
Historically, the debate over education policy in New York State has been much too polarized, and thus difficult to comprehend. Unfortunately, finger-pointing, name-calling and efforts to subvert differing opinions — all things we teach our children not to do — are the norm.
In reality, there are incredible people doing phenomenal work in the Buffalo Public Schools for all the right reasons, despite many obstacles, systemic and otherwise. And charter schools exist to be incubators for innovation of best practices in public education and provide a much-needed choice for parents in districts where low-performing schools are often the norm.
All involved in this debate would serve our children far better by collaborating, rather than competing. We have far more in common than that which divides us.
In fact, the original vision for charter schools came from Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers from 1974 to 1997. He envisioned charter schools as powerful models from which the traditional public schools could learn. Shanker also argued that charter schools could elevate teacher voice, where teachers could become more active participants in decision making.
At Tapestry, our teams of teachers have a considerable say in how our school is run. Through informed decision-making, effective communication and by providing authentic teacher voice they are able to guide the future development of the school and meet the needs of staff and students. School leaders respect teachers and other staff members as creative agents in their classrooms and as professionals continually seeking to improve their craft.
Unfortunately, as a New York State charter school, Tapestry receives less than two-thirds of the per-pupil funding received by traditional school districts, along with zero funding for facilities. In our case, Buffalo Public Schools not only keeps the difference, but receives millions in additional funds every year just for having charters in their district. Because of a flawed funding formula that was created almost 20 years ago in Albany, it looks like charters are just another cost on BPS’ budget. This faulty perception continues to polarize the conversation and deter collaboration.
The new majority in Albany made history by electing the first African-American woman as Senate majority leader, and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins has a great opportunity to end this divisiveness and truly stand for progress by encouraging collaboration and funding schools equitably. Our students, district and charter alike, deserve nothing less.
Eric Klapper is the executive director of Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo.