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Guv, mayor blast senators for charter school lapse

State lawmakers drew criticism last week after they failed to raise the cap on charter schools, causing them to miss the deadline to apply for $700 million in federal aid.

Gov. David Paterson and Mayor Michael Bloomberg admonished legislators for refusing to vote on Paterson’s bill that would raise the cap from 200 to 460 charter schools in the state. Because lawmakers were unable to agree on the charter school legislation, including a proposal by state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) to lift the cap to 400 but increase school regulations, the state missed last week’s deadline to apply for a portion of the federal government’s $4 billion in “Race to the Top” funds.

State officials will have another chance to apply for the funds in June.

“Today is a sad day for the children of New York, for the tens of thousands of students on wait lists for charter schools and for the thousands more who need and deserve better educational choices,” Paterson and Bloomberg said in a joint statement released last week.

State Sen. Majority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) took issue with the governor’s and mayor’s statement and said legislators should pass a bill that both raises the cap and better regulates the charters.

Sampson and Silver sponsored a bill that legislators also failed to act on that would have raised the cap to 400 and removed the city school chancellor’s ability to approve charters. The bill proposed that the state Board of Regents, appointed by the state Legislature, would instead have the ability to give the schools the green light.

“Nothing is more important than our shared constitutional obligation to a sound, basic and quality education,” Sampson said. “The bill I sponsored with Assembly Speaker Silver would have maximized our eligibility for federal funds while bringing greater transparency, accountability and parental input to the charter school process.”

State Department of Education spokesman Tom Dunn said New York would apply for the second round of Race to the Top funding in June. Race to the Top is part of the economic stimulus plan and Paterson has said the state has a better chance of landing funding if it increased the number of charter schools — institutions supported by President Barack Obama’s administration.

Queens lawmakers, union officials and other state politicians have criticized the way charter schools are now run in the city, arguing the schools enroll too few of New York’s poorest students, English-language learners and special education pupils.

“Charter schools are meant to help make improvements for all students, not a small percentage,” city Comptroller John Liu, a former councilman from Flushing, said in a release sent out earlier this month by the United Federation of Teachers calling for students to have greater accessibility to charter schools.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

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