Paterson: Let’s Not Race to the Middle

ALBANY—David Paterson just endorsed lifting the cap on the number of charter schools in the state—a move recommended yesterday by the State Board of Regents—to make New York more competitive for the “race to the top” pool of federal education funding.

“I can appreciate that people have ideological differences with some of the plans, but this is the plan that President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan have put before us. And the question is, do we want to compete? Are we racing to the top? Or are we racing to the middle, and in the middle you’re not going to get funded,” Paterson said at an event in the Bronx where he signed a new foreclosure prevention law.

Paterson said he called Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, to talk about whether New York’s current laws—which cap the number of charter schools at 200—would make the state ineligible.

“What he said to me is eligibility does not mean you’re even in the ambit of those states that are going to receive money,” Paterson recounted. “If we in New York are going to be in the running to compete for race to the top federal money, we either need to be in compliance as much as we possibly can with what the federal government wants, or we should withdraw because we’re not going to get the money. And any kind of discussion in between these two concepts is just going to confuse the issue.”

State Senator Malcolm Smith agrees with Paterson, and has introduced a bill doubling the cap. A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he is still “reviewing the recommendations.” Teachers’ union officials are not completely supportive of such a move.