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NY top court ends charter schools' bid to certify teachers

The New York State Court of Appeals on

The New York State Court of Appeals on Eagle Street in Albany. Credit: Google Maps

ALBANY — New York’s top court on Tuesday effectively ended a bid to let charter schools certify their own teachers.

The Court of Appeals declined to hear a last-ditch appeal filed by the State University of New York and several charter schools that were seeking to allow certain schools to certify their own teachers.

In doing so, the top court upheld a mid-court decision that said only the state Education Department and its Board of Regents has authority to set certification standards, Court of Appeals spokesman Gary Spencer said.

The lawsuit involved a SUNY unit, called the State University of New York Board of Trustees' Charter School Committee, that enacted regulations in 2017 to “establish an independent licensure process for teachers in certain charter schools as a substitute for the teacher certification system established by petitioners State Education Department and State Board of Regents,” according to court documents.

The SUNY committee asserted “independent licensure process is necessary to alleviate a teacher shortage.” The committee eliminated a master’s degree requirement for teachers and permitted charter schools authorized by SUNY to certify their teachers with one month of classroom instruction and 40 hours of practice teaching.

Soon after, two New York City charter schools, Success Academy Charter Schools and Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, submitted plans for independent licensure programs and SUNY approved them.

In response, regents and the Education Department sought to have the SUNY certification rules annulled, arguing the committee had no legal authority to establish licensing procedures.

New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers’ union, joined the regents in a lawsuit seeking to throw out SUNY’s certification process.

At the first legal hurdle, an Albany judge in 2018 said SUNY certification programs were illegal because the requirements fell below state Education Department standards.

Regents and the union won again in October 2019 at midlevel Appellate Division, which said SUNY overstepped its authority.

State education law “does not authorize the (SUNY) committee to promulgate regulations pertaining to teacher licensure and certification,” the Appellate Division said in a 4-0 decision.

SUNY and the charter schools tried to take the case to the Court of Appeals, but it declined to take up the matter — leaving the Appellate Division ruling as the final word.

“We’re pleased the court recognized that hearing any further arguments in support of this fake certification scheme isn’t worth their time," NYSUT president Andy Pallotta said about the outcome. "This scheme would have created a two-tiered certification system and allowed unqualified educators to practice in some charter schools. Upholding the Appellate Division’s decision is a huge win for New York’s education system.” 

Emily DeSantis, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the decision "ensures that the requirements for teacher certification remain rigorous, consistent and transparent."

 "The decision rightly, once again, upholds the Board of the Regents and the Commissioner’s authority to certify teachers in New York State," DeSantis said.

SUNY Charter Schools Institute executive director Susie Miller Carello called the decision "disappointing," said the certification issue was partly related to diversifying the teaching ranks, and said the state "must do more to help create alternative certification pathways to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of our teaching workforce."

State & Region