This month, New York City finally hit the limit on charter schools allowed in the five boroughs. The elimination of open slots to create such schools poses a threat to the charter school movement, which has been buffeted by shifting political winds in recent months and is unlikely to have the clout to raise the state cap on charter schools.
“This is the definition of crisis,” James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said in January. “As of today, no principal, no teacher, no leader, no matter how driven, talented or proven, will be able to start a new independent public school in our city. We are leaving great ideas and untold opportunity on the table while tens of thousands of children languish in schools that city leaders themselves admit are not currently up to the task of educating them.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Merriman and other charter school operators and advocates had powerful backers in both parties in Albany, where laws overseeing charter schools are crafted. But a number of proponents have fallen out of power, while others have shifted focus to other issues.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
The governorfamously stood with charter school advocates at an Albany rally in 2014, but he has since shifted to the left and embraced teachers unions, which are generally against charters. But he did propose an increase of $37 million in funding for charters this year.
One of the most powerful Democrats in Albany after forming the Independent Democratic Conference, Jeff Kleinwas a staunch charter school supporter. But he was ousted in a primary last year and his conference is now defunct.
State Sen. John Flanagan
State Senate Republicans were reliable allies of charter schools, but state Sen. John Flanagan, the conference leader, lost his majority and has much less clout as minority leader.
The leader of Success Academy Charter Schools has taken a few political hits. One was when then-Success Academy board Chairman Daniel Loeb accused state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who is black, of doing “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” And another was for her flirtation with joining the Trump administration.
New York City Councilman Rubén Díaz Sr.
The elder Rubén Díaz has had less of a say over charters since he left the state Senate to serve closer to home. His controversial remarks about gay members of the City Council also resulted in him being stripped of his committee chairmanship.
But perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope for charters. At least three state lawmakers who support charters have moved up the ranks in recent years. Bronx Assemblyman Marcos Crespo has long been a supporter of charter schools in his district, and is arguably the most powerful Democratic county leader in the city now that Joseph Crowley of Queens has resigned. Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, another supporter, was recently promoted to majority leader. Luis Sepúlveda moved up from the Assembly to the state Senate last year.