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Law Giving Charter School Employees Admissions Preference Sparks Debate

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Leaders of a teachers union are demanding charter schools reject a provision allowing charter employees to bypass the admissions lottery process. Credit: Anissa Thompson/FreeImages.com.
Leaders of a teachers union are demanding charter schools reject a provision allowing charter employees to bypass the admissions lottery process. Credit: Anissa Thompson/FreeImages.com.
October 8, 2015

NEW YORK – A New York law passed earlier this year allowing charter schools to bypass the admissions lottery process and offer 15 percent of available seats to the children of charter employees has some union leaders up in arms.

Charter advocates say the law is beneficial to teachers and schools, but opponents insist it's unfair to the 170,000 students on wait lists in the state. Most of those students are in New York City, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

At a recent press conference Michael Mulgrew, United Federation of Teachers president, accused charter schools of giving preferential treatment to their employees at the expense of the state's neediest children.

"That's 15,000 seats in New York City," he said. "A set-aside for the charter management organizations and charter school staff so that their children get priority over the neediest children in the neighborhoods that they serve."

Charter advocates say the provision acts as a retention tool for teachers and staffers. Advocates also say it could promote school diversity, particularly in lower-income communities since the children of teachers in those areas are often from outside of those communities.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, says the provision could also improve and promote diversity among charter schools, something teachers unions have a history of supporting.

"I think you're going to see diversity and integration, racially and by class," he said. "And again I would think that the United Federation of Teachers, which frankly does have a long and distinguished record on these issues back in the '60s, would be applauding this."

Merriman says each charter school retains the right to decide whether or not to offer seats to the children of teachers and staff. But he says the union, which has long had a contentious relationship with the charters school industry, is picking a fight about something it should support since it benefits teachers – whether or not they're in a union.

Nia Hamm/Tommy Hough, Public News Service - NY