Yesterday’s Times features an article about the Mayor’s proposal to convert parochial schools into charter schools.
Bloomberg said that this would “bring stability and much-needed predictability back to families with children at some of the 14 schools in Brooklyn and Queens that the diocese has said it may close at the end of the academic year because of declining enrollment and rising operating costs.”
But when has Bloomberg or Klein ever cared about the need for stability or predictability for our regular public schools --- with four drastic reorganizations in six years; increased levels of overcrowding in neighborhoods throughout the city, rising class sizes, and now, threatened budget cuts of over $1 billion, including his threat to fire 15,000 teachers?
As mentioned in the Times article, the parochial schools may be facing financial disaster, but unmentioned is the fact that our city schools are as well; should we be subsidizing the education of these children at the further expense of our own?
Every dollar provided to charter school takes funds out the limited operating funds for our own public schools. How many more dollars would we lose as a result; how many more teachers? Meanwhile the charter schools are allowed to cap class sizes at much lower levels.
At least during the press conference, the mayor admitted one thing that the administration usually denies: That public schools in Brooklyn and Queens “are already at or near capacity” and that we “just do not have enough classroom space for those who are currently going to school.” He suggested that the new charter schools relieve some of the overcrowding in neighborhood public schools.
On the one hand, his statements are a refreshing contrast to the administration's usual disingenuous claim that the problem of public school overcrowding is only a “pocket” phenomenon.
Yet there is another alternative to the ongoing crisis in school overcrowding, not mentioned by the Mayor nor in any press account I have seen – the option of the city acquiring these parochial school buildings at low cost, and turning them into regular public schools.
Repeatedly, over the years, DOE officials have refused the pleas of Brooklyn and Queens public school parents to lease already-vacated parochial school buildings to help ease overcrowding in their communities– telling them that this is impossible, since the Church refuses to allow sex education to be taught in these buildings!
Now they have the nerve to suggest that if parents want to avoid the overcrowding in their local public schools, they can enroll their kids in charter schools, run in partnership with the Church. This comes close to forcing parents into choosing these questionable charters, because the city refuses to do its job in creating enough public school space.
This issue raises another question; one of access. The Bishop of Brooklyn is able to advocate directly with the Mayor for the benefit of parochial schools; the Robin Hood and Gates Foundations, along with the Center for Charter School Excellence, and the children of billionaires who have started their own charter schools, are able to advocate with him for the benefit of charter schools; but who advocates for our regular public schools?
Not the Chancellor, who at every opportunity gives the charter schools precious public school space, and the authority to cap enrollment and class size at lower levels.
He and the Mayor also continually boast about the success of charter schools. Even in the press release about the new plan to “save” the parochial schools , the test scores of charter schools are favorably compared to those of regular public schools. On this occasion, the Mayor also praised parochial schools for their “focus on high academic standards and high student achievement."
What does it say about a Mayor and a Chancellor who brag about how much better the schools are that they do not run? As the Mayor himself said at his press conference with the Bishop of Brooklyn, this proposal would have been “inconceivable” under a different governance system.
As Diane Ravitch pointed out in her testimony to the Assembly on Mayoral control, the fact that the Chancellor refuses to stand up and fight for our kids is a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with the current governance system:
The chancellor’s primary obligation is to protect the best interests of the students. If elected officials say that they must cut the schools’ budget, the chancellor should be the voice of the school system, fighting for the interests of the children and the schools. If the chancellor is appointed by the mayor, his first obligation is to the mayor, not the children.
The Times article says “The plan would require approval by the Legislature because state law bars charter schools from having any ties to religious institutions.”
Let’s hope this is true. Meanwhile, people ought to let their Legislators know how they feel about this proposal.