Black and Hispanic educators support lawmakers’ push to create more minority-led charter schools in New York
Black and Hispanic New York City charter school leaders are backing a new bill that would allow dozens more alternative schools to open — as long as they are run by people from “historically underrepresented communities.”
Black, Latin American, Asian charter joint project advocates for the Racial Equality and Diversity in Public Education Act — or “READ Act” — which would raise the state cap for another 336 charter schools to open from 460 to 796.
Educators are hoping a revival bill sponsored by state senator Leroy Comrie (D-Queens) will convince Albany’s anti-charter progressive lawmakers to change their stance.
“Racial equality is the way forward to remove restrictions. The legislator is very focused on equality. It’s a way for students to benefit,” said Miram Rakka, co-founder of Girls Prep charter school and CEO of BLACC, which represents more than 20 charter schools with 12,000 students.
“We want the people who run charter schools to better represent the interests of the students they serve. We want to encourage the hiring of directors and teachers who are people of color.”
The legislation says that 51 percent of new charter schools’ leadership or their governing boards must be people of color, although sources say the wording may need to be changed to make property diversity a goal rather than a preference, given the legal controversy over the quota.
The measure, co-sponsored by Democratic Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Miri and Kevin Parker, will also create a new state commission on charter schools and attempt to dramatically increase the number of minority teachers by exempting them from paying state and local income taxes, as well as providing forgiveness college loans and allowing charter schools to offer alternative licensing.
“These changes are necessary to create an educational structure in New York City that promotes racial equality and diversity in educational leadership,” Comrie wrote in his memo.
Gov. Kathy Hochul last week proposed ending New York’s regional cap to allow up to 85 additional charter school places to be available in the Big Apple while maintaining the state cap of 460. There is currently a cap of 275 charter schools in the city which has been reached and left some approved charter schools in limbo.
But even Hochul’s modest proposal is met with fierce resistance from the powerful teachers’ union and its allies in the legislature.
Most publicly funded charter schools, which typically have a longer school day and year and whose students often outperform their traditional public school counterparts on standardized state tests in English and math, have non-union staff.
The city’s charter schools now have 142,500 students, or 15% of all public school students. About 90 percent of charter school students are black and Hispanic.
Despite their success and popularity with parents, opponents see them as a diversion of resources from traditional public schools and argue that they do not take as many students with special needs.
Minority charter school operators disagree.
Bishop Raymond Rivera, founder of Bronx Family Life Academy charter schools and a BLACC member, said the increase in minority-led charter schools is an ideal marriage that promotes both academic excellence and opportunities with equity.
“Parents vote with their feet. Parents want a choice,” Rivera said.
“There is a correlation between poor education and prison,” he added. “We cannot wait another 50 years for the Department of Education to pull together and lose another generation of students of color.”
Rivera said he “doesn’t technically support quotas” but believes in incentivizing “people of color” to run charter schools.
“All of our public schools need to be more diverse, including the charter school sector. We think charter schools are the closest we have to community control,” said Rivera, also founder and president of the Latin American Pastoral Action Center.
The equity bill is also supported by the New York Charter School Center.
“We support the READ Act and other proposals that will give educators and people of color a clear path to high-quality public charter schools. With the current restriction, they have no options and this is unacceptable,” Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said.
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