NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 19, 2008

Ten years ago, New York joined the charter school revolution by passing a law to allow these innovative public schools to open; but now, thanks to the state's Department of Labor and a labor-friendly state judge, building a new charter school just got a lot harder and a lot more expensive, say Amy H. Friedman, co-founder and chairperson of Tapestry Charter School, and Peter Murphy, policy director of the New York Charter Schools Association.

Charter schools are built on a simple idea; in exchange for less state funding and a mandate on performance, charters are exempt from many high-cost regulations that hamstring traditional public schools.

However, Freidman and Murphy say a movement is underway to halt the charter revolution:

  • Last fall, as a sop to labor unions, Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith ordered charter schools to adhere to state "prevailing wage" requirements, which mandate paying union wages for construction projects and which typically add 30 percent or more to the cost of a project.
  • Although charter schools have always been exempt from this state law, state trial judge Michael Lynch upheld the new mandate, erroneously applying labor law to charter schools beyond anything intended by the legislature or precedent.

This ruling is an egregious example of the withering autonomy of charter schools, says Friedman and Murphy.  Charters successfully educate students on 70 percent of the funding spent by district school competitors.  But the state's education bureaucracy, legislature and now the courts are all piling on regulatory burdens.

The charter school movement in New York, after thriving for nearly a decade, faces an uncertain future if the state continues pushing charters to be more like the failed bureaucratic schools from which charter students fled, say Friedman and Murphy.  

Source: Amy H. Friedman and Peter Murphy, "New York's Novel Way to Kill Charter Schools," Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2008.

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