Last week, the de Blasio administration declared war on charter schools, at least according to the New York Post. Governor Cuomo rushed to the barricades, telling a rally in Albany yesterday: “We are here today to tell you that we stand with you.… You are not alone. We will save charter schools.” Families for Excellent Schools, who organized the rally, claimed the Mayor's decision was met with universal opposition and characterized the move as the back end of a quid pro quo with the teachers union for endorsing the mayor.
Wondering what actually happened? The de Blasio administration released a memo reviewing forty-nine co-location decisions made last fall by the lame-duck Bloomberg administration. A co-location is when two schools occupy the same building, and it’s been a controversial aspect of the charter-school movement. Many charters, which usually serve fewer special ed or bilingual students than regular public schools, get free rent on space in the regular public schools that charter advocates so often disdain–often space that the regular school needs..
De Blasio’s chancellor, Carmen Farina, set aside four of the decisions that won’t take effect until the 2015–16 school year to give more time for study. It ordered thirty-five of the forty-five remaining plans implemented. It called for one to be revised. And it cancelled nine planned co-locations. Six concerned regular public schools, which also often co-locate. Three were for charters.
All three of those cancelled co-locations were for charters proposed by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy network. Her defenders see that as proof that the mayor, a long-time critic of Moskowitz, was singling her out. But given the aggressive expansion plans of the Success network, it’s not that surprising that she has a large presence on the list. Moskowitz will now need to find space for those students, including some already attending Success Academy’s Harlem 4, which had outgrown the two other co-located sites it was using. Given that Success Academy is rolling in money—Moskowitz reportedly pulls down $475,000, more than the president of the United States—it seems likely she’ll come up with something. Contrary to the shorthand way some have reported it, de Blasio didn’t rescind the schools’ charters—he couldn’t—he just said they can’t use public school space.
(And for the record, the teachers’ union did not endorse de Blasio but his chief rival Bill Thompson in the Democratic primary. The UFT did back de Blasio in the general, along with the rest of the universe.)
Overall, fourteen charter-school co-locations—including five Success Academy ones—got the green light from Farina.
Full disclosure: I’m a charter-school parent. My elder son attends a K-5 school in the Bronx that has its own building and, like many of New York City’s charter schools, has unionized. Despite misgivings about the charter movement, we sent him there because we hoped the school’s progressive philosophy would help him avoid the drudgery of test prep. When I’d toured a regular public school in my district to see if it was right for us, I’d seen a bulletin board of student essays… about their test prep. One kid said he visualized tackling the test and kicking its teeth out. This wasn’t what we were looking for. As it turns out, because our school performed poorly on its first round of standardized testing and had its charter threatened, test prep is now a pretty regular part of life there. But we still like it.