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NY teachers' union fights against bill to aid special education charter students

By Elizabeth Ling, DFER NY State Director

The waning days of our state’s legislative session are often the setting for bad behavior on the part of New York’s teachers unions. This year’s post-budget session proved no exception, with the state teachers union exhibiting the highest levels of hypocrisy in protecting its turf.

New York’s teachers’ unions have long accused charter schools of not enrolling special education students at rates similar to district schools. While the issue of special education is a complex one worthy of further analysis, charter schools are nonetheless pressing forward to better address the needs of this population.

In April, Senator John Flanagan and Assemblyman Karim Camara sponsored the Charter School Students with Special Needs Act which would have greatly aided charters in serving special education students at no additional cost to taxpayers. Drawing on an approach long used by small rural upstate schools, charters sought to contract services with BOCES and establish consortia that would pool resources to provide special services to students off-site.

This bill was a no-brainer, and thus you’d think that NYSUT would be fully supportive given its previously stated concern that charters are not effectively serving special needs kids. YOU WOULD BE WRONG.

NYSUT applauded the sponsors, admitted that charter schools are not adequately equipped to serve special education and ELL students under current law…and yet strongly opposed the passage of the bill. NYSUT’s rationale can be gleaned from its memo distributed to lawmakers, in which it complains that the legislation could lead to “an explosion of charter schools.” This and its other misrepresentations were rebutted in a memo issued by the state’s two leading charter advocacy groups.

As a result, while the bill passed the Senate, it was not permitted to go to the Assembly floor for a vote. The 2012 legislative session closed with no final passage of the Act.

Charter supporters have come to expect that, each year, the teachers unions will attempt to influence legislation in order to protect what they consider their own “monopoly” on public education. Labor’s actions often perpetuate locking too many children into failing schools or else diminishing options for parents seeking, in droves, to have their kids attend a high-performing charter school.

This year, however, NYSUT outdid itself. In blocking an attractive legislative solution that would have helped charters to better educate needy children without any new public funding, NYSUT underwent contortions worthy of Harry Houdini and, in the process, exhibited its true colors - to protect its own self-interests first.

Elizabeth Ling oversees strategy and operations for DFER's New York State advocacy programs. She focuses on building coalitions of various education reform groups, and works with legislators and government officials to help shape public education policies. Read more about Elizabeth here.