Governor Kathy Hochul wants to lift the cap on charter schools in New York City, but, Chalkbeat reports, the big charter chains are losing enrollment.

When Gov. Kathy Hochul unveiled a proposal to abolish the cap on the number of charter schools that can open in New York City, she said the policy is a matter of common sense, noting that children of color have experienced waitlists to enroll.

“I don’t think we should be telling them they don’t have a choice,” Hochul said in an interview on NY1 earlier this month.

The city’s charter sector has long been defined by its explosive growth and lengthy waitlists while enrollment has sagged among the city’s district schools. But preliminary state enrollment data suggests that demand for charter schools may be cooling — including among the city’s largest networks — complicating arguments for lifting the charter cap.

The city’s charter sector grew slightly this school year, by 0.42%, compared with a 2% decline among traditional public schools. But that masks important variations among charters: About 45% of them enrolled fewer students this year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of state data. (The official statistics sometimes group multiple campuses under the same charter school.) About 60% of traditional public schools enrolled fewer students.

Meanwhile, the city’s most established networks enrolled fewer students this year than they did last year, including Success Academy (down 7.7%), Uncommon Schools (6.5%), KIPP (5%), and Achievement First (3.9%).

The governor’s proposal would abolish the local cap on the number of charter schools and release so-called “zombie” charters — essentially making New York City operators eligible for just over 100 new charter schools, which are privately managed and publicly funded.

But experts said there are trade offs of opening new schools in an environment where school leaders are struggling to fill all their seats. Since public dollars follow students, more schools vying for the same or shrinking pool of children would lead to smaller budgets or could even prompt closures, possibly affecting existing charters and district schools alike.

“The charter sector has grown substantially over time,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “But opening new schools at a time when you’re seeing these signs of contraction strikes me as something that requires a fair amount of thought.”

Pallas pointed to evidence that competition from nearby charter schools boosts student learning among district schools, an argument in favor of lifting the cap. But he also worries that the new charters, which educate over 14% of the city’s public school students, may not be viable long term or could threaten other schools by drawing funding away from them. “I don’t think it’s good for kids for there to be that kind of instability,” he said.