During his campaign for mayor, Bill de Blasio promised to focus the city’s energy and resources on improving our public schools instead of encouraging the further growth of privately managed charter schools.
The city will spend over $1 billion on nearly 200 charter schools this year; up sharply from $32 million when Mayor Bloomberg took office. Rapid charter expansion has been encouraged by the fact that two thirds of them get free space inside public school buildings. This is highly unusual; only about one eighth of charters nationally receive free public space. Moreover, this appears to violate state law, which holds that if districts choose to offer charters facilities, this shall be “at cost.”
The city’s provision of space to charter schools inside public school buildings has caused much conflict, dissension and overcrowding. Schools have lost classrooms, art rooms, and libraries to charters, as well as dedicated space for students with disabilities to receive their mandated services. Most experts agree that the DOE formula used to assess space is flawed and underestimates the room necessary for a quality education. Even so, nearly half of all co-locations approved last October would push the building above 100% in the next few years, according to the DoE’s own formula.
Valuable rooms would be sacrificed that could be used to provide prekindergarten programs or reduce class size, even as class sizes in the early grades are at a fifteen year high.
Moreover, the Independent Budget Office calculates that charter schools in city buildings receive substantially more in per pupil funding than public schools when their free space and services are taken into account. In addition, many charters raise millions from private sources, and 16 charter school CEOs have salaries above the Chancellor, as much as $500,000 per year.
Co-located charters are provided with more than their fair share of public funds, despite the fact that they enroll fewer English language learners, students with disabilities and children in poverty than public schools in their communities. Many charters also feature abusive disciplinary and “push–out” practices to ensure high test scores. Our new mayor recognizes that it is time for these inequitable policies to cease; and that the city must turn its attention to maximizing opportunities for all children, rather than just a chosen few.