Dueling rallies took place in the Capitol on Tuesday pushing for and against Gov. Kathy Hochul's proposal to expand the number of charter schools in the state as the topic remains untouched in ongoing budget negotiations.
Hochul proposed lifting New York City's regional cap on charter schools and allowing for 85 more in the state to increase charter school funding by 4.5% in her executive budget.
It's something neither chamber of the Legislature included in their counter budget proposals.
Lawmakers and advocates rallied for legislative leaders to stand strong against the governor's proposal as budget negotiations intensify before Friday's deadline.
"We're not telling our parents where to send their children to school," said Hazel Dukes, president of NAACP New York State. "We are saying our public schools are good enough for our children, and we have the resources and the money that we can do the job that we need to do."
Dukes is an ally of Hochul's, which lawmakers said gives them hope the governor will change her position.
Legislative leaders have yet to meet and hash out the details of education funding in the next budget. The Senate is expected to discuss charter schools funding Wednesday at the earliest.
Several lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly say they will stand firm and commit to keeping the proposal out of the final budget.
But representatives of legislative leaders warn negotiations will continue for several days, and nothing is off the table. Senate officials indicated Tuesday they could reach a compromise on the governor's charter school proposal if necessary to work through other more contentious policy issues.
People against the proposal argue charter schools offer inadequate education, are less transparent and take funding from the public school system.
Hochul maintains many New York City parents want more school options, citing long waitlists at operating charter schools.
She recounted she's heard support from thousands of parents in the city who support the expansion.
"They deserve to have a choice," Hochul said at an unrelated event in Rochester about charter schools March 7. "Children deserve to have options. I am one of the greatest supporters of public schools. I'm a product of public schools. Our investment of $34.5 billion in public schools is record-setting. So, my commitment is strong, but I can't tell a parent in a community where they want to have a different option for their children that that option does not exist. That's why I'm pursuing the opportunity to give choice to parents."
Hundreds of charter school students and advocates also rallied Tuesday on the Million Dollar Staircase backing the governor's proposal to lift the regional cap, but also for more funding for charters that's equitable to other public districts.
Parents and school administrators argue charter schools represent their Black and Latino students in their faculty and learning environment, which is critical to their education. They also have said charter schools correct racial inequalities rampant throughout education.
Assemblywoman Stefani Zinerman, a Brooklyn Democrat, says the issue has evolved, and a solution cannot be achieved by pitting one system against the other.
"We're having a 19th or 20th Century conversation in the 21st Century," Zinerman said. "We should not continue to just want to support systems. We should see what works. We should share best practices."
Zinerman says the state Education Department's system is antiquated in that charter schools have more flexibility to purchase materials and train teachers.
"Sixty-five percent of African American children do not read on grade level, how could that happen?" Zinerman added. "I don't want to fight one system against the other because there's all sorts of types of schools in America and especially in New York state. We should be able to support whatever parents are willing to support because they are giving us their precious ones to take care of."
The governor's proposal to expand charter schools and increase their funding is because of statutory funding formulas and declining charter school enrollment, according to the governor's office.
Politically powerful labor unions have stood firm against expanding charter schools since the governor announced her proposal.
Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos says smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers and equitable education can only be achieved if the state's funding isn't split by a second school system.
"They're asking for more resources and that's only possible if we keep a unified system and make sure that every dollar goes into those district schools so that they can deliver the top-quality education," said Ramos, a Democrat from Queens.
State Education Department officials did not answer questions Tuesday about what should be done with the charter school discussion in the state budget after department Commissioner Betty Rosa pushed back against the proposal at a recent budget hearing.
In February, Rosa told lawmakers she didn't understand Hochul's thinking in proposing to lift the city's cap on charter schools and create more across the state.