NEW YORK – In just a few days, the New Year’s Eve Ball will drop in Times Square and 2014 will be underway.
The start of a new year is a time of hope and optimism for most. But that’s not the case for New York City’s charter school supporters, who are extremely worried about what the future holds for them once Bill de Blasio is sworn in as the city’s new mayor on January 1.
De Blasio is an outspoken critic of the city’s 183 charter schools, which serve 70,000 children – or six percent of the city’s 1.1 million public school students. The incoming mayor has made it clear that he views the alternative public schools as parasites that drain government-run schools of students and the financial resources that accompany them.
De Blasio is especially critical of “co-location,” a policy implemented by current Mayor Michael Bloomberg that allows charters to share building space with traditional public schools, rent-free. Bloomberg adopted this policy as a way to help charters find space in the Big Apple’s pricey and competitive real estate market.
The Associated Press notes this policy “helped the schools grow from 17 to 183 during (Bloomberg’s) time in office.”
It’s not as radical an idea as it may seem. As one co-location supporter notes, charter schools are public schools and their students are public school students. That makes it “perfectly appropriate for them to be in public school space.”
But de Blasio has blasted the practice as “adding insult to injury,” and has made it known that he intends to start charging “well-resourced” charter schools rent, which could generate as much as $92 million for the city, the AP reports. While that money would presumably benefit the city’s government-run schools, it could also cause serious financial problems for charter operators.
Eva Moskowitz, who oversees Success Academy Charter Schools – the city’s largest group of charters –warns that charging rent would cause financial hardships for many of her schools.
In an editorial from September, Moskowitz notes that charters receive about $2,000 less per-pupil funding than traditional public schools because the alternative “schools get no facilities funding, just operating money.”
“That’s why Mayor Bloomberg lets charters use excess public-school space for free,” Moskowitz writes.
If de Blasio starts charging rent to charters, the money will “come out of each school’s operating budget, which is supposed to pay for things like teacher salaries and instructional materials,” she adds.
De Blasio defends his plan by arguing that many charter schools have wealthy backers and are doing well financially.
But Moskowitz tells NewYorker.com that “she runs deficits at most of her schools, and that the imposition of rent would devastate the charter school network’s budget, potentially resulting in cuts to teacher and administrator salaries, special-education services, books and other supplies, and would increase class sizes.”
Despite de Blasio’s attempts to sell his rent-imposition plan as a common sense move to help financially hurting government schools, it’s clear to at least some observers that this is only the first step in his overall plan to drive as many charter schools out of business as possible.
During the campaign, De Blasio – a proud teacher union supporter – called for a moratorium on co-locations of charter schools in public school buildings “until a new process can be put in place.” He also opposed efforts to lift the state cap on the number of charter schools that can be established, the NYDailyNews.com reports.
De Blasio’s plan seems obvious: Prevent new charters from opening, undermine the existence of the current ones, and reward the failing government schools with even more money. That fits with his declaration during an October debate that “our city rises or falls on our traditional public schools.”
The reality is that charters represent the best hope for many New York City families. The proof is in the numbers of families who are clamoring for access to a charter. For example, Moskowitz’s Harlem Success Academy had 2,665 children enter its annual lottery for one of the school’s 125 open seats in 2012.
“That’s an acceptance rate of 4.7 per cent, lower than that of any Ivy League university,” NewYorker.com notes.
It appears those desperate families will see their schooling options dwindle during de Blasio’s tenure in office. And that explains why so many of them are more than a little wary to see what the new year – and the new mayor – will bring.