Earlier this month, newly-inaugurated New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blocked three charter schools from using space inside public school buildings for next school year. The action makes good on a campaign promise de Blasio made to rein in the influence of private education providers. It also reverses the decisions made by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican.
De Blasio, a Democrat, accused Bloomberg’s administration of rushing the co-location decisions to give free space in city-owned buildings to the charter schools in the final days before leaving office last year.
Bloomberg was a strong proponent of the taxpayer-funded but privately-run charter schools, which increased in number from 17 to 183 during his time in office. De Blasio has pledged to charge rent to “well-resourced” charter schools and has called for a moratorium on allowing new charters to share buildings with traditional schools. De Blasio plans to calculate rent on a sliding scale, with wealthier charter schools paying more than those with fewer funds. No details have been released on exactly how organizational wealth would be assessed.
Public school districts around the country routinely charge co-located charter schools rent. The fees vary, but they offset expenses such as custodial staff, facility maintenance and utilities. De Blasio’s proposed sliding scale would be the first of its kind. Charter school operators maintain that they lack the ability traditional public schools have to raise funds for facilities through local taxes and bond issues. Rent agreements cut directly into their per-pupil funding. “We were handed a series of last-minute moves by the Bloomberg administration approving a number of co-locations,” de Blasio said, after announcing his administration would move forward with the majority of the previously approved co-locations. Of the 49 schools that had been approved for co-location, only nine were rejected: three charters and six regular public schools. Of the six public school locations, alternative plans were proposed for three, and the other three proposals were dropped.
The three charter schools denied space are all part of the Success Academy network. Eva Moskowitz, a former New York City council member and outspoken critic of de Blasio, is the network’s founder and CEO.
De Blasio said the Success Academy schools were well-funded. “We’ve said that we would have a standard of fairness that requires us to say if a charter school happens to be well-resourced … we’re going to ask them to help us out,” the mayor said at a recent press conference.
Of the three schools affected, two were brand new, but one has been in operation since 2008. Success Academy Charter Harlem 4 is a middle school that posts impressive test scores. In 2013, Harlem 4 students performed in the top 1 percent of all schools in the statewide mathematics exam. The Success Academy charter network did have five schools approved for their co-locations.
De Blasio said future decisions about placing charter schools in public school buildings would include meetings with neighborhood groups and parents.
Last week’s decision affects nearly 600 students who were already registered for the upcoming school year.
“Explaining to students and families that they won't have a school next year is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve done at Success Academies,” Moskowitz said in a statement. “No parent should have to go through this.”