New York City Charters Await Future On Rent Charges

Charter schools, independently-operated schools funded with public money, have grown increasingly popular in New York City over the past few years. There are now 183 of them in the city and house around 6% of the cities students. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a huge supporter of charter schools due to the high test scores seen by many charter school students, but Bloomberg’s decision to give these schools classrooms, libraries and cafeterias that had belonged to the district schools put parents against parents.  Now, Mayor Bill deBlasio is siding with the critics, and wants to charge charter schools rent, threatening their ability to survive.

Charter schools are fighting back, writes Ben Chapman of The New York Daily News, saying this decision is going to affect thousands of students. Parents in high minority group neighborhoods see charter schools as life savers, and feel that if deBlasio stops the charters, families could suffer.

District parents say their kids suffered by losing after school programs, theater and art when charter schools moved in. This may be true since 2/3 of city charter schools use public school space. This came from Bloomberg, who provided a policy in 2003 allowing charter schools to use free space in public school buildings to make up for funds they did not receive from the state. Once free space was factored in, charter schools were found to have received more funding than district schools.

“They clearly were given extreme preference by the Bloomberg administration, in terms of space, instructional support, facilities support and any sort of capital improvement,” said teachers union President Michael Mulgrew. “Some really ugly stuff happened.”

The conflict began when Bloomberg began pushing charters as a way to save the city’s school system. State funding for the schools exploded, from $32 million for 17 schools in 2002 to $659 million for 125 schools in 2010-2011. Private money also increased and charters received donations from private and corporate groups.

Mayor deBlasio ran on a campaign promising the funding and free space of charter schools would change. This alarmed thousands of parents and operators of charter schools, who insist their good test scores come from the freedom they have to no abide by city rules or union contracts. Their teachers can work longer hours and are paid slightly more.

 “Teachers want to work here despite the longer hours,” said Katie Duffy, CEO of the Democracy Prep network, which includes eight city charter schools where teachers work from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and then must be on call until 9 p.m. “They want to go the extra mile. They want to be part of this.”

Parent groups and Public Advocate Letitia James sued the city in December and blocked 42 new charter schools from opening. The teachers union has filed similar law suits.

Mayor deBlasio is said to be working on a system to charge the existing charters with a fair rent price and will address new ones on a case by case basis. As he decides on a policy, charter schools are left in limbo. Their advocates believe they have proven they are worthy and deserve a chance to keep expanding.

“Either we use every possible tool that we have to educate the most needy students or we reverse course,” said New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman.