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De Blasio Needs To Extend Olive Branch In Charter School War

March 25, 2014

By Charles Upton Sahm

On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered an olive branch to the charter-school movement. If he wants to quickly show he really means it, he should back the effort to let charters offer pre-K.

Nothing could show acceptance better than welcoming these alternative public schools into his signature effort. And nothing would better improve his pre-K initiative.

State law now excludes charters from publicly funded pre-K programs, but the issue is one of many now on the table in budget talks in Albany.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education-reform task force called for letting charters offer pre-K. De Blasio said he was open to the idea, but his current pre-K implementation plan excludes charters.

That’s puzzling, when the plan would let hundreds of community-based organizations — churches, yeshivas, YMCAs, community centers — offer pre-K services. (About 60 percent of publicly funded pre-K seats in the city now are in centers run by community groups; 40 percent are in public schools.) Essentially, the only nonprofits in the city not permitted to offer pre-K are charter schools.

The city’s existing pre-K programs are all over the map in terms of quality; many community-group centers have been cited for safety concerns. Charters, on the other hand, typically outperform district schools and are subject to scrupulous oversight.

When Mayor de Blasio testified in Albany about his pre-K plans, state Sen. Ruben Diaz quizzed him on the exclusion of charters. De Blasio noted that a couple of charter operators — Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and the PAVE charter school in Red Hook — have set up separate nonprofits that contract with the city Education Department to offer pre-K.

While this is true, it’s disingenuous to assert that charters can easily offer pre-K. Setting up a separate nonprofit — with its legally required separate board, staff and finances — is difficult and time-consuming. (Plus, the IRS has a two-year backlog for reviewing nonprofit applications.)

State Sen. John DeFrancisco also challenged the mayor on the exclusion. De Blasio dodged, “Until we have a law change . . . I don’t want to speculate.” But the state’s charter-school law was amended in 2007 and 2010 and 2012; it would be very easy to adjust it again.

Charter leaders recognize the importance of early-childhood education. Success Academy, the city’s largest and most successful charter network, has a particularly broad, content-rich early-childhood curriculum that is very well aligned with the Common Core. It’s also very successful: 83 percent of Success third-graders were proficient in state tests in math last year, 61 percent in English.

Another charter network, Public Prep, is launching the Joan Ganz Cooney Early Learning Program, named after the pioneering co-founder of “Sesame Street.” Public Prep hopes to be able to offer this innovative full-day pre-K this fall to exclusively serve low-income 4-year-olds living in South Bronx public-housing projects — a population in desperate need of great, tuition-free education options.

But, as Public Prep’s CEO Ian Rowe notes, “It has been incredibly difficult. Public charter schools should be part of an all-hands-on-deck approach to increase access to high-quality pre-K, particularly for families in low-income communities. Why wouldn’t we be?”

A good question, the answer to which surely has a lot to do with the fact that teachers at most charters aren’t part of the union.

The Senate budget proposal would right this wrong and allow charters to offer pre-K services. Indeed, it’s just common sense to include charters — some of the highest-performing schools in the city’s neediest communities — in the mission to expand pre-K.

But common sense doesn’t always survive the sausage-making in Albany. That’s why Mayor de Blasio can send a truly meaningful pro-charter signal by embracing this reform.

Original Source:



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