School choice in blue states, too? New York Gov. Kathy Hochul plans to expand charter schools

School choice is increasingly receiving bi-partisan support as some Democrats join Republicans in the movement to give families more choices in education.

Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul just announced a plan that would allow as many as 85 new charters to open in New York City and revive 21 “zombie” charters statewide – schools that closed or had their charter status revoked.

“Governor Hochul has proven that she prioritizes the voices and needs of students and families first,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

The move has surprised some since Democrats, who currently hold the trifecta of governor’s office, House and Senate in New York state, have been historically opposed to any form of school choice. 

“Governor Hochul believes every student deserves a quality education, and we are proposing to give New York families more options and opportunities to succeed,” said a spokesperson for the governor.  

Charter schools are a type of public school – publicly funded, tuition-free and open to all students. However, they are overseen by independent boards and generally operate under fewer regulations.  

Teachers’ unions traditionally oppose school choice, claiming it redirects public funds to private institutions. But in New York, they aren’t even willing to share with other public schools. 

“This will have a devastating impact on our public schools, especially for our state’s most underserved students,” wrote Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers.  

“Gov. Hochul is right to fully fund public education, but wrong on trying to expand charter schools,” tweeted Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Mulgrew accuses charter schools of cherry-picking students. However, EdChoice explains charters are required to accept any student in their district, presuming they have open seats. If enrollment is full, they must use a lottery. 

Earlier this year, NYC Mayor Eric Adams faced harsh criticism from parents when he let plans for new charters fall through.  

“I’m speechless. I’m devastated,” said Nicole Lawrence, a Bronx resident and mother of a kindergartener. “I think the mayor took the easy way out and now the children suffer and the parents suffer.”  

“Eric Adams is not doing enough for charter schools,” agreed Joseph Melo, a local father whose son is waitlisted for a charter school. “There is a need for kids to have a choice, for parents to have a choice. The public schools have gone down the drain.”  

NYC’s traditional public schools are hardly a bastion of quality education.  

In 2022, only 49% of its students were proficient in English language arts. Even fewer (38%) were proficient in math. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that New York’s charter schools have a wait list of over 173,000 students.  

Other states have seen significant growth in charter enrollment, including Mississippi, Massachusetts, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Alaska and North Carolina. Arizona, the first state to implement universal school choice, even had eighth-grade charter students that outscored virtually every other state’s public school students.  

As previously reported by The Lion, charters were the only type of public school to experience nationwide growth during the pandemic. Charter enrollment increased by 7% while traditional public schools decreased 3.5%.