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New York Daily News


The Bill Comes Due for Charters

February 06, 2014

By Stephen Eide

The potential cost of the mayor’s plan to charge the independent public schools rent

Bill de Blasio’s campaign against charter schools is underway. Last week, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced plans to “reprogram” $210 million in charter school capital funding for other, not yet specified priorities.

But the charter-school wars won’t completely ratchet up until de Blasio says definitively what he’s going to do about co-location. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, charter schools — which are independently run public schools — enjoyed rent-free access to unused space in district-school buildings, a policy that made New York’s charter sector not only one of the largest in the nation, but one of the highest-performing.

De Blasio has called for a moratorium on new school-sharing arrangements — and said that many co-located charters should pay rent, though he has yet to specify which ones or how much. He’s spoken broadly of a sliding scale, saying “programs that can afford to pay rent should be paying rent.”

Thus looms a moment of truth for de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” agenda, as he will reveal the extent to which it’s really about leveling — diminishing the achievements of the top performers — as opposed to improving conditions and opportunities for those who are struggling.

A leveling impulse manifested itself in some of candidate de Blasio’s comments about charter schools. “There’s no way in hell Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK!” said de Blasio on the campaign trail.

Moskowitz’s Success Academy, which opened in 2006, has expanded into the largest charter school network in the city, and one of the best in the nation. Success’ 22 schools educate overwhelmingly poor and minority students, yet their test scores rival those in affluent Westchester County districts such as Bronxville and Rye, thus confusing the definition of “the 1%” among public schools in New York State.

Success owes its record of achievement to its instructional program and management, but it succeeds on the scale it does only because of co-location. De Blasio cares much less about Success’ achievement than that its schools — and its high-paid chief executive — get rent-free space.

According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, co-located charter schools receive more public support than district schools do. (Critics have cast doubt on whether this calculation accurately accounts for the massive costs associated with district school teacher pensions.) The IBO recommends that city government consider charging rent to charter schools as a way to raise revenue.

So: How much would it cost, and how much would such payments set back the city’s 183 charter schools, which educate 70,000 students? In a new report, “Should Charter Schools Pay Rent? Implications for Staffing and Growth,” I find that, had the city charged rent to co-located charter schools at the IBO-suggested rate ($2,400 per student), 71% would have run a deficit in 2011-12, the most recent year for which budget data are readily available.

This would have forced drastic fiscal adjustments, and almost certainly teacher layoffs, since salaries and benefits comprised 70% of school budgets in that year.

How would charging rent to charter schools benefit district-school students? De Blasio and other charter critics rely heavily on anecdotal evidence to illustrate the harm co-location allegedly inflicts on district school students (press reports speak of “classrooms . . . stocked with new computers” and “buildings so overcrowded that certain children are forced to have lunch at 10:15 a.m.”).

Regarding de Blasio’s plans to have only “well-resourced” charter schools pay rent, the details are hazy. But if that means many charter schools don’t wind up paying, that would mean revising downward the IBO’s $92 million estimate on rent collection.

That figure, by the way, is less than 1% of the Education Department’s budget. Charging charters rent therefore risks an asymmetrical outcome of diminishing student performance at good charter schools, while doing nothing to improve it at district schools.

But this is fundamentally an issue of fairness. Though they are public schools, charter schools lack a dependable source of public support for their facility needs. The Bloomberg administration’s co-location policy was a reasonable accommodation made necessary by the scarcity and cost of appropriate school space in New York City.

Addressing inequality, de Blasio’s signature issue, is much more ambiguous as a policy goal than focusing specifically on poverty. Many charter school critics would consider it a net gain if, by restricting co-location, at least a select few become worse off even if no one winds up doing much better.

Does Mayor de Blasio share this view?

Original Source:



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