Charter schools are rare on Long Island, just like they are in vast stretches of the rest of New York State. In fact, there are no charter schools from just north of Albany all the way to the Canadian border; and they are nearly as rare in much of central New York and the Southern Tier.

In fact, of the 38 state Senate districts outside of the New York City metropolitan area, only five have three or more charters. Most have no charters at all.

So why do the Republican state senators from Long Island and the rest of upstate continue to lobby to provide millions of dollars in state aid every year to the charter sector; money that could benefit their own local schools and constituents but instead ends up in the coffers of charter operators in New York City? It’s a question that is especially pointed for Long Island’s GOP Senate delegation, particularly Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Charters received a $22 million increase in state funding for the current school year. In the recently enacted state budget, the Senate pushed for – and won – a $70 million increase in charter school funding through a $500 per-student tuition bonus, bringing the two-year funding increase for charters to about $92 million in state funds.

It's not as if schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties, or any of these senators’ home districts, couldn't use additional funds. If divided among the Republicans’ districts, that $92 million could mean dozens of new teachers to lower class sizes in local schools, more sports and after-school programs, art and music, guidance and health services, and better career training in areas that have lost manufacturing jobs – and that’s not to mention the impact of tens of millions of additional state dollars on local property taxes.

What accounts for this devotion Senate Republicans have shown to charter schools outside their districts? Maybe it has something to do with the huge sums that pro-charter billionaires have lavished on charter cheerleader operations and on Republican office-holders.

In the last five years, a group of charter-friendly billionaires including the Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune; hedge fund operators Daniel Loeb and Paul Singer; and others have poured nearly $13 million in contributions into outfits with names like “New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany” and “New Yorkers for Putting Students First” that function as lobbying forces for the charter industry.

Republican Party operations in New York State have also been the direct beneficiaries of the billionaires’ largesse. Republican county and state committees, along with their associated housekeeping and campaign accounts, raked in more than $3 million in contributions from this group during the same period, with Singer and notorious right-wing billionaire David Koch leading the list.

Thanks to changes in federal and state election laws, billionaires can legally use their vast fortunes to magnify their voices on any issue they decide to embrace.

But Long Island residents – in a chorus with New Yorkers from throughout the state -- should be reminding their senators that they don’t have to listen to those voices, particularly when it means short-changing their own public schools. And Long Island’s Senate delegation would be smart to pay attention.