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Geoff Decker, writing in Chalkbeat New York City, says the state is asking charter schools to do their best to recruit more students with disabilities and students who are English language learners. The state has set very low targets. For example, New York City charters are supposed to meet a target of 7 percent English language learners, which is only half of the city’s proportion of 14.3 percent.
Why should they have a target of 7 percent when the citywide average is 14 percent?
The state says it will crack down, but not very hard. It will act like a cotton hand in a velvet glove.
Such disparities have been flash points in debates about New York City’s charter schools for years. Lawmakers stepped in five years ago, requiring schools to have targets for enrolling students with disabilities, English language learners, and students from low-income families. The idea was that not making efforts to hit those targets would jeopardize a school’s ability to stay open.
This year, for the first time, schools’ progress toward those goals are being scrutinized. But it appears that state regulators plan to treat the targets as guidelines, not requirements.
“We’re not exactly sure how rigidly we’re going to interpret the targets because there may be some challenges that the schools face,” Joseph Belluck, who chairs the committee that governs SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute, said last week. If a school can’t show it has tried to meet its targets, SUNY will be stricter, he added.
“We hope that they will not say that they’ve done nothing to meet them,” Belluck said. “That would be a problem.”
So here is the scenario. The SUNY Charter Schools Institute will ask charters that enroll only 2 or 3 percent English language learners, have you really truly tried to increase the enrollment of ELLs? The charter operator will say, “Oh, yes, we have certainly tried. We printed flyers in Spanish. We have done our best.” And the case will be closed. No sanctions for non-compliance. And charters will continue to under-enroll the students with the greatest needs without penalty.