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N.Y. Budget Deal Secures Facilities Funding for N.Y.C. Charters

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A budget deal in New York, reached on Saturday, provides some of the strongest protections for charter schools in the country. The agreement would prevent charters in New York City from paying rent on district-provided facilities and require the city to pony up if charters move into privately-owned space.

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The deal, reached after months of political maneuvering from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, represents a major set back to Mayor de Blasio's campaign platform in regards to charters. The newly-elected mayor had vowed to re-evaluate the co-location policies championed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that allowed charter schools there to flourish.

In February, Mayor de Blasio rescinded co-location agreements for three charter schools, including one that was already in operation, sparking protests and backlash from the charter school community.

As part of the budget agreement, charter schools in New York City will not have to pay rent if they are housed in district-owned facilities. Effective April 1, charter schools must approve any changes to their co-location agreements before they can be implemented. New York City charter schools looking to open or expand must receive a co-location space or the city will be required to fund either the cost of the lease of a privately-owned facilities or allocate an additional 20 percent of per-pupil funding.

In addition, charter schools will receive an additional $500 in per-pupil funding per student over the next three years. Per-pupil funding for charters in the city has been frozen for the past three years at $13,530 per student. Charter schools will also be allowed to participate in the universal pre-kindergarten program, for which the budget deal set aside $300 million.

New York City's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, criticized the budget deal's charter school protections, calling it favoritism. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement, "Our students can't be second-class citizens in their own school system."

But charter school supporters praised the move. Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter advocacy group in New York City called the deal "a bold and courageous step to ensuring charter schools are treated equitably." And Michael Regnier, the director for research and policy at the New York City Charter School Center said in an interview with Education Week, "We were pleased to see that the future growth of public charter schools was secured."

Allowing charter schools to be secured access to facilities "will provide some stability and a clear path forward so that charter school operators know they can respond to demand," said Regnier. He also praised the budget deal's inclusion of charter schools in the state's early education expansion. "A lot of charter educators started with kids in kindergarten and pined to be able to reach those kids earlier in their lives, and this legislation is going to allow interested charter schools to expand in that direction," he said. 

Photo caption: New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, talks with fellow Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill at the Capitol in Albany on Monday, as members debate budget bills. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders reached an agreement on a spending plan at the start of the weekend, setting up Monday's vote. --Mike Groll/AP

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