Saturday, February 24, 2024

Two Bronx legislators want the city to pay even more for charter rent!

AM Zaccaro and Sen. Sepulveda
 Assemblymember John Zaccaro Jr. and Senator Luis Sepulveda

The Bronx Times reports  a new bill that would supposedly provide more "equity" by making NYC DOE cover the rental costs for all NYC charter schools.

A law passed the Legislature in 2014 required NYC to provide space in DOE schools for all new or expanding charter schools or help pay for their rent, while getting 60% reimbursement from the state. NYC is the ONLY district in the state and even the country with this unfair obligation, where we have some of the highest rental costs in the nation.  Even with state reimbursement, charter rent is costing DOE more than $100M this year, with this amount expanding annually.  The DOE estimates the cumulative cost of charter leases to their budget at nearly a billion dollars since the law was passed.

Now Senator Luis Sepulveda & Assemblymember John Zaccaro Jr. have submitted a bill that would make DOE pay rent for ALL NYC charters.  Meanwhile, Bronx charter schools are springing up in new developments throughout the borough, subsidized by DOE and thus taxpayer funds.

How much would this new bill cost the DOE budget- $1B or more per year? The reporter doesn’t say; nor does she point out that NYC is the only district in the state or nation with this financial obligation.  Nor does she quote any opponents to this new bill.

Why do these two Bronx legislators advocate for more funding for charter school facilities, while not mentioning that not a single new Bronx public school is specified to be built in new five-year SCA capital plan? Could it be because of the deep pockets of charter lobbyists perhaps?

According to Follow the Money, and the NY State Board of Elections, Dan Loeb, billionaire charter school supporter gave Sepulveda $11,800 in 2020 and $11,000 in 2018, with his wife Margaret Loeb matching both donations, along with another $15,000 from John Petry, another billionaire charter school supporter.   

Sepulveda also received $7,000 from DFER and $37,300 from Students First, both charter lobbying organizations, plus a lot of real estate money, which is not surprising as developers profit off charter expansion, as DOE’s rental payments guarantee them a steady source of income when they finance buildings with charter schools as anchor tenants.

John Zaccaro’s three biggest contributors in 2023 were charter school supporters Joel Greenblatt ($6000) Greenblatt’s wife Julie (another $6000), plus Students First NY (yet another $6000). Greenblatt, Loeb and Petry are also on the board of Success Academy charter schools.

In our report on charter rent, we pointed out that some charter management organizations that own or sublease the space for their own charter schools like Success Academy have sharply raised these rents, apparently to gouge more funding out of DOE. 

After we released our report, Senators Liu and Jackson and City Council Education chair Rita Joseph wrote a letter to NYC Controller two years ago, asking for an audit; but we haven’t yet heard that there is any such audit yet in process.

Instead of this awful new bill, public school parents and advocates should support Sen. Liu’s bill, S2137, and A5672, sponsored by AM Benedetto,  that would remove the unfair, expensive and onerous obligation for DOE of having to pay charter rent.

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