On the surface, New York Mayor Bill de Blasios professed concerns about what might be called the social justice dimensions of charter schools and the condition of some of the citys most celebrated parks—including Central Park—might appear unrelated. But look more closely and one sees a common thread—one that should especially concern charitable donors. Its a link which connects proposals to limit the expansion of charter schools with a proposal to redistribute philanthropy directed to park conservancy organizations. The common thread is this: a commitment to equality of resources, above all, that extends to a willingness to risk mediocrity in public services in the name of fairness.
A number of New Yorks Citys most famous parks, including Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, are managed by private non-profit conservancies that rely on philanthropic support, private management, and volunteers. Over the past two decades, this has proven to be a recipe for renewal, as parks once-known for crime and poor maintenance have become urban amenities of the highest order—places where runners, cyclists, picnickers, cricket teams, and families with young children routinely share green space. Just as charter schools are public facilities managed by private non-profit organizations—which also draw, in part, on philanthropic support—these parks can be thought of as “charter parks”—whose private management has demonstrated that there are, in fact, approaches—and they dont include armed guards or locked gates—which can make important urban public spaces safe and attractive. So, too, have many of New Yorks 183 charter schools—attended by some 70,000 students—demonstrated that a combination of private management (non-union) and idealistic staff and volunteers—can help even disadvantaged students meet achievement standards.
In the de Blasio era, both charter parks and charter schools are under fire—in ways that would effectively tax the philanthropic support they receive. Mayor de Blasio, in part because of professed concern that some charter schools are “well-resourced,” has proposed (without specifics yet) that the city charge the 119 charter schools housed in city property rent. Similarly, he has endorsed proposed state legislation that would require that park conservancies—what Im calling charter parks—be required to divert 20 percent of philanthropic support they receive to the upkeep of less well-maintained parks, perhaps in poorer neighborhoods, that are the responsibility of the citys Parks Department.
Each proposal would reduce the value of philanthropic support; park donations would not only be diverted to sites donors had not originally contemplated, but would be controlled by managers that donors didnt necessarily endorse. Charter school donations would decline in value as the schools—which receive a combination of public and private support—found that their expenses had significantly increased. (Indeed, a recent Manhattan Institute report by my colleague Stephen Eide found that 71 percent of the citys co-located charter schools would be thrown into budget deficit, with teacher layoffs the likely result.)
Its well worth noting that the services of both charter schools and “charter parks” are hardly reserved for New Yorks wealthy—who, of course, send their children to private schools and may even live in a neighborhood such as Gramercy Park, the entrance to whose namesake carriage park, which is truly private, requires a key. In contrast, charter schools almost exclusively serve students from poor households, and “charter parks” such as Brooklyns Prospect, adjoin low-income minority neighborhoods and draw heavily from them.
An obvious question presents itself: What motivates self-styled political progressives to take aim at what appear to be successful institutions serving those without economic advantages—in part thanks to philanthropic support provided by the wealthy? An answer comes from the New York Times Michael Powell, who has repeatedly expressed concern that parks in New Yorks poor neighborhoods lack access to the resources of deep-pocketed donors, and even that the boards of park conservancies include too few minority members.
There are any number of rejoinders to such concerns—most notably the fact that private support for some parks makes public funds available for others. But one fears that the issue here is not about whether some schools should pay rent or some parks make cross-donations to others. One may sense, rather, that the motivation is concern over inequality per se—the implicit belief that no facility, whether charter school or charter park—should succeed by attracting, through its own initiative and effort, more support, both financial and volunteer, than any other such institution. This is an endorsement of mediocrity in the name of equality. It flirts with radical leveling.
It ignores the possibility that the success of some may inspire change and improvement in others (as happens in so much of the American economy); it ignores the fact that money alone does not explain the success of schools nor parks. And it treats cavalierly the intentions of philanthropic donors, who, like private investors, are putting their money down not just on a cause but on specific institutions and their management. One must keep in mind that building successful institutions of any kind is neither easy nor inevitable. Thats what makes the $300-plus billion which Americans donate to charity each year a sort of national social venture fund, which government should celebrate by maintaining a hands-off approach, rather than seeking to direct it. Indeed, donors across the U.S. should follow developments in New York with concern, lest they find that donations to private universities are diverted to state colleges, or donations for specific forms of medical research diverted to others considered more worthy.
Such is the path of a false fairness on which New York progressives are headed.
Original Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/howardhusock/2014/02/20/parks-schools-and-bill-deblasio-risking-mediocrity-for-fairness/