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The Power of Parents

June 7, 2010

By Mona Davids, President of New York Charter Parents Association

The first of June brought many long-awaited changes for parents and students in charter schools through the reforms passed by the state legislature.

The New York Charter Parents Association (NYCPA), the first and only independent charter parent organization, is pleased that the majority of the reforms we advocated for are included in the new charter school governance law. As charter parents, we are supporters of public school choice but understand that no system is perfect – Department of Education (DoE) or charter. It boggles my mind when folks assume the charter system at 12 years old is perfect when it’s not. Yes, if we can choose where we bank and what phone or television provider we want, why not choose where we send our kids to school? But if a school is supposed to be public, it should serve the public – parents and students. We are the consumers of public education and we deserve basic rights for us and our children.

But charter parents have not been respected as being the consumers in charter schools. It is our children in these charter schools and as parents we have the right to a voice in how our schools educate our children and in holding the boards of trustees accountable to properly govern our schools.

Twelve years later, the charter school law has been amended for the first time to include reforms that should have been in it all along. The law finally has some common sense and basic rights for parents and students in charter schools. NYCPA’s victory included the following crucial reforms:

1. EVERY charter school in NYC is now required by law to have an independent parent association or parent-teacher association. Now parents will have an opportunity for true voice in their schools.

2. Charter schools are now required by law to serve a comparable number of special education and English language learner students to district schools AND must retain them and prove their retention efforts. Charters must demonstrate at the time of renewal how they will meet those requirements, with repeated failure to meet those targets serving as cause for revocation of the charter. The days of pushing out and counseling out those students are over.

4. Increased oversight of charter schools and the board of trustees of charter schools. This applies to their financial, operational and management systems, including the disclosure of conflicts of interest and conducting and publicizing monthly Board of Trustee meetings.

5. Authorization of a State Comptroller audit for all charter schools. NYCPA believes the many instances of financial mismanagement and fraud at charter schools will now decrease. Public funding equals public accountability and transparency.

6. The Chancellor stripped of his authority to authorize new charter schools. The Board of Regents and SUNY Charter School Institute are now the ONLY authorizers of charter schools. We strongly believe that the NYC DoE provided lax oversight of charters under their Office of Charter Schools.

There are also many important reforms that did not make it into this legislation. NYCPA will continue to fight for teacher and staff protections in charter schools for whistleblowers who report mismanagement, corruption and ill treatment of our children. We also stand united with our fellow district school parents in saying the co-location issue was not properly addressed. The new charter law requires that all co-located schools have building councils, but these councils exist; the requirement in the law that the building council include one parent will not make much of a difference. We need a better process for co-location. The pitting of district and charter parents against each other must stop.

Charter parents MUST also remember that the ONLY reason we are charter parents is because our district schools are failing. It was plain old luck in the lottery that got my child and the other 30,000 students in charters. We must not forget and cease to care about the 1.1million students in district schools.

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