Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch yesterday called on city charter school operators to move away from elementary education and take on the problems of fixing large failing high schools.

Speaking at Hunter College, Tisch said that charter schools have benefited from being the political “darlings” of the city and state, blessed with the most qualified teachers and some of the highest-achieving students. Instead, Tisch said, charter schools need to branch out to serve more struggling high school students, English language learners and special education students.

“It’s really time for charter schools to say to me, ‘I don’t want to just grow my own, I don’t want to operate in this zone where I am the darling,'” Tisch said. “I want them to dig in and say, ‘what can we do to help?'”

Currently, thirteen of the city’s roughly 100 charter schools serve high school students, though more are slated to grow to include ninth through twelfth grade classes.

Tisch was speaking on a panel organized by the group Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century about the future of the city schools post election. The panel also included teachers union head Michael Mulgrew, founder and CEO of Success Charter Network Eva Moskowitz and Democrats for Education Reform director Joe Williams.

Moskowitz disputed the notion that charter schools are given preferential treatment, noting that charter schools receive lower per-pupil funding and do not receive public funds for school buildings. “Everything that the charter schools have has been fought for tooth and nail,” she said.

Under New York State law, charter schools do not receive public funds for school buildings, but in New York City, some of them are given space in district school buildings free of charge.

Tisch has indicated that a plan to convert large failing high schools into charters will be part of the state’s application for federal Race to the Top grants. So far, it’s one of the few concrete proposals state officials have said they’ll include in the application.

During the panel, Williams criticized the pace state officials have taken in promoting the changes that the Race to the Top grants will award. He pointed to other states like California and Colorado, which have been publicly and aggressively plotting their application strategies and proposing legislative changes to conform to the grant program’s draft rules. Williams said that he has yet to see that kind of energy in New York.

“I hope [Tisch] is right that we’re going to have an exciting application,” he said. “I don’t see that happening.”

Tisch took exception to the criticism, arguing, as she has done frequently, that the appointment of education commissioner David Steiner and his deputy John King sends a strong message to federal education officials that New York’s reform plans are aligned with the Obama administration’s goals. Both Steiner and King have been active in issues the federal education department has promoted, including improving teacher quality and training and sparking more growth in charter schools.

Tisch also said that she was confident that the ban on linking student achievement data to teacher tenure decisions, a state law observers speculate may disqualify the state from the competition, would not be renewed after it sunsets in June. “I do not believe there is an appetite legislatively to extend or prolong that law,” Tisch said.

Mulgrew, the president of the teachers union which originally fought for the insertion of the law into the state budget, did not contradict Tisch’s projection.

Tisch drew a line, however, at endorsing a removal of the state’s cap on charter schools, a provision Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for last month and that is among the Race to the Top draft requirements. Tisch echoed comments made by Steiner on the day he was sworn in, saying that the cap has allowed charter schools to expand in the city and state in a thoughtful, measured pace.