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Growing Support for Charters

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As 27 new charter schools open in New York City this week, it's increasingly clear that these schools are no longer viewed as fads or experiments but rather as part of a long term solution to fixing our public schools. The latest evidence comes in a Daily News-Marist Institute poll that shows two-thirds (66%) of New Yorkers now believe charter schools are a "good thing because they give more choices to parents and kids."

 The findings are particularly significant because they don't just reflect those who have long supported charters, including families in underserved communities. The survey shows support for charter schools spans New Yorkers of every race, income level, and political party, and those in every borough.  

Equally important is the fact that just 24% of those surveyed believe charters take resources away from traditional public schools. This is one of the central (and false) arguments perpetuated by teachers unions and other reform opponents to push back against charter school growth. It's obvious that most New Yorkers just aren't buying it, further signifying how disconnected opponents are from what the public wants.  Between the economic crisis and President Obama's Race to the Top program, there is an unprecedented consensus among voters, editorial writers, and even Hollywood that we must make improving public schools a national priority, and charter schools play an important role in that work.  

 Charters were conceived on the principle that educators should be able to try out new ways of doing things and offer high-quality alternatives in communities where other public schools weren't performing well. So far, many of the 125 charters in New York City are fulfilling that promise--consistently outperforming district schools and drawing tens of thousands of parents to admissions lotteries each April with the hopes of enrolling their children.  

This year's new class of charters, in particular, embodies the vision of charters as home-grown schools seeking to address a community's needs.

There's Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School in the South Bronx. Co-founded by the well-known Bronx physician who started the Urban Health Plan, he and other educators at the school will introduce students to careers in the health care industry to help address a critical aspect of the cycle of poverty.

In Brooklyn, Lefferts Gardens Community Charter School opened this week, a true "grassroots" school that was launched as a result of two community parents who wanted better options for their children and founded a charter school to get that job done.

And in East Harlem, there's Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, which enrolled a large number of special education students and English Language Learners with a mission to graduate local teens historically at risk of dropping out.  

As the charter sector grows, so too does the ability of schools to identify successful best practices and share them with their district school neighbors. These efforts got a major boost earlier this year when state lawmakers lead by Senate Leader John Sampson raised the charter cap, allowing 260 more schools to open statewide in the coming years.

But bringing these ideas to scale, and bringing more high-quality options to even more families, will require financial support that still remains elusive.

Charters continue to receive fewer public funds than traditional schools and still have no guaranteed access to facilities in which they can open and grow.

Attitudes, however, are slowly changing and there is a growing recognition among lawmakers, parents, and now the general public that charters are indeed a "good thing"--a good thing we need more of so they can help make all schools great.