NYSUT, UFT file lawsuit to overturn new “watered down” charter school teaching requirements

Legislative Gazette file photo
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said lowering teacher certification standards is the wrong approach to dealing with a high teacher turnover rate in charter schools, and one that hurts children.

The state’s largest teachers unions are suing to block the SUNY Charter Schools Committee from implementing what the unions call “illegal” regulations they say will “undermine the teaching profession by allowing unqualified teachers” to work in some charter schools.

The suit filed by the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers in state Supreme Court in Manhattan charges that the SUNY Charter Schools Committee exceeded its legal authority and usurped the role of the Legislature by adopting “watered-down requirements” allowing charter teachers to be certified with as little as one month of coursework and just one week of actual practice teaching.

In a 4-1 vote, the SUNY Charter Schools Committee on Wednesday approved an “alternative certification pathway” for teachers at high-performing charter schools to help alleviate a shortage of teachers.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta noted that while charter networks are plagued by “sky-high teacher turnover” — with teachers in some charters leaving at triple the rate typically seen in district schools — lowering the standards is the wrong approach, and one that hurts children.

“These illegal regulations tell the people that New York state cares more about nail salon customers than children in charter schools,” Pallotta said. “How can New York state demand that manicurists need 250 hours of instruction but allow charter school teachers to get certified with far fewer hours of training?”

The lawsuit petitions the court to overturn Wednesday’s vote by the SUNY Charter Schools Committee.

It notes that, in passing the Charter Schools Act, the Legislature required teachers in charter schools to meet the same requirements for certification applicable to all teachers working in other public schools, with a few, limited exceptions.

The unions say a 2016 law only authorized the SUNY Charter Schools Committee to promulgate regulations concerning the “governance, structure and operations” of a charter school and did not empower SUNY to adopt regulations that set up alternative standards and requirements for teacher certification.

The alternative certification pathway passed on Wednesday lowers the number of hours prospective teachers need to spend in a classroom setting during their training and it also relaxes the rule requiring that teachers either have a master’s degree, or be working toward one, to maintain their certification.

“It is not easy to become a fully certified teacher in New York, nor should it be,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. “All our kids deserve to be taught by teachers who have gone through a rigorous process, but the Charter Schools Committee has just approved a measure that would toss these standards aside for charters — all because some charter schools have trouble meeting them.”