Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Regents, has proclaimed in recent days that she believes in expansion of charter schools. On a Nov. 16 radio show, she said: “I personally am a great believer in charter schools ... I believe in opening them aggressively…I’d like to push more charter schools.” She added that rather than support the Mayor’s preference for improving struggling schools rather than shutting them down, ”If we do not see movement on these schools, these lowest-performing schools, in terms of their ability to retool their workforce, by the spring, we will move to close them.”
The most recent Quinnipiac poll from November 19 revealed that 48 percent of NYC voters believe that the Mayor should freeze or reduce the number of charter schools in NYC, while only 43 percent think that the number should be increased – despite millions spent by the deep-pocketed charter lobby on marketing and television ad campaigns. Fifty percent of voters believe charters should pay rent if housed in a public school vs. 41 percent who oppose this. Sadly, both the authority to decide whether charter schools should expand and whether they should pay rent have been taken out of the Mayor’s hands, as the power to determine the number of charters rests with the Governor and the state Legislature.
Moreover, the Governor already pushed through a new law last spring which obligated NYC to provide free space or pay their rent in private space for any new or expanding charter going forward – the only district in the state saddled with this burden, where we already suffer from the most overcrowded public schools and the highest real estate costs. And now Cuomo, Tisch and their Wall St. buddies are working hard to raise the cap – especially in NYC, where we already have 197 charters, with 31 approved to open over the next two years, and 28 remaining under the cap. We are already paying $1.3 billion per year for these privately managed schools – and will likely be spending hundreds of millions of dollars more for their rent.
On a subsequent radio show, Tisch said that the remaining open slots in the rest of the state should be shifted to NYC “where we are eager to have them.” (See this radio interview, at about 32 minutes in. ) One wonders who is the “we” referred to here. Is it the royal we, or does we mean the Wall St. pro-charter crowd with whom she socializes? Clearly, it does not mean NYC voters or public school parents.
Last spring, the hedge fund/charter lobby spent $5.95 million on ads to pressure the Mayor and the legislature to give free space to charters. This fall, they spent another $4 million on TV ads to elect a Republican majority in the State Senate that would support raising the cap, without ever mentioning the word “charter schools” in their ads – because those words don’t go down so well in the swing districts of the candidates whose campaigns they were supporting.
Today, there are only 51 charter schools in the rest of the state, and more than 100 slots remain under the cap outside NYC. Suburban districts have mostly managed to resist the charter onslaught, but not here in NYC where the wealthy oligarchs have more influence with the Regents and the SUNY board than the hundreds of public school parents who appear at hearings in opposition.
Last week, apparently as part of Tisch’s “aggressive” stance towards expanding charters, the Regents approved a Rochester charter school founded by 22 year old “Dr.” Ted Morris Jr., who lied about his resume, claiming he had degrees from a high school, college and even graduate schools that he had not attended and/or graduated from. The State Education Department and the Regents did not do even the most minimal fact checking, as Morris’ resume in his charter application did not match his Linked-in profile, nor did it align with earlier charter applications he had submitted to NYSED, starting at the age of 18. After his lies were discovered, “Dr.” Ted Morris resigned from the charter, but Tisch said that the school would be opened anyway, with a board recruited from Craig’s List. Subsequently, the approval was withdrawn, but only after bloggers and the media did the minimal research that NYSED had failed to fulfill in the first place.
At the same meeting, the Regents approved the Harlem charter application of Dr. Steve Perry, who runs a magnet school in Connecticut, even though his school enrolls far fewer poor students , those with disabilities, and English Language Learners than the other high schools in Hartford. Perry is a controversial figure who has compared teachers to cockroaches and his bullying of parents led the Hartford Board of Education president to call for an investigation against him. Now Jonathan Pelto has called for a new investigation – this time, into the fact that Perry admitted using Hartford district employees to prepare his charter application and to develop the educational programs to be implemented at his Harlem charter school.
Also at the same Regents meeting, NYSED released college-going statistics for districts and schools that were shown to be wildly inaccurate by Superintendents and principals throughout the state.
A recent report, summarizing the audits of NY charter schools, concluded that millions of dollars have been wasted and/or improperly spent by them, and there was “probable financial mismanagement in 95% of schools examined. “ Another just-released report from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers found that NY is the 18th lowest out of 21 states for strong charter accountability laws.
Four years after the previous NY charter law was amended, that barred any charter school from being re-authorized or allowed to expand or replicate that has not enrolled equal numbers of at-risk students as the public schools in their communities, the state has failed to release any data that would allow one to assess their student attrition rates. We know from the data that does exist that the student cohorts at many NYC charter schools, including Success Academy, lose many students along the way. According to Peter Goodman,
In the spring of 2013 a number of regent members asked the commissioner for a report on attrition: were the charter schools dumping low achieving and discipline problems especially before the state tests – a year and half later – no report.
Clearly, NYSED and the Regents have failed to be responsible for the charters that they have already authorized, have proven themselves incapable of performing minimal due diligence in authorizing new charters, and are certainly unable to provide proper oversight for the additional numbers of charter schools that Tisch wants to so “aggressively” expand. It is time that the State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch stop recklessly throwing away taxpayer money in their campaign to privatize our public schools. One has to wonder where the accountability is for them.