Two weeks ago, Families for Excellent Schools hosted a rally that gathered about 10,000 charter school supporters according to crowd-controlling police officers. It called for city officials to address the issue of how prevalent poor-performing public schools are in the city. Currently, there are 15 new charter school proposals pending approval from the Department of Education.
“With nearly 143,000 students trapped in failing schools, today’s event is a wake-up call for city and state leaders,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of Families for Excellent Schools. “Without bold action, this crisis threatens the future for children across this city.”
Although organizers claim the event was focused on the need for major improvements in the education system, it is also trying to garner greater support for charter school expansion as the solution to problems in public education.
Outside of the court buildings around Foley Square, stood a stage with two jumbotron screens with Questlove from the Roots mixing pop dance songs from Bruno Mars and Beyonce. A sea of red t-shirts with the rally’s theme, “Don’t Steal Possible,” happily danced to the beats while holding signs that read “Kids Can’t Wait” for better schools.
Following state passage of pro-charter school legislation earlier this year, Mayor de Blasio has been stuck between a rock and a hard place concerning the growth of charter schools. The legislation requires that the city continues to allow charter schools to either expand within public school system rent-free, or the city can subsidize their rent if the charter operates in another facility.
Many critics argue that charter schools should not be allowed to exploit public resources. They also accuse some charter schools of admitting high-performing students to join their schools in order to pass state exams; those kids are then sent back to public school once the stop scoring high on exams.
Retired special education teacher Lorri Gumanow, 58, disagrees with the law and believes charters schools should pay rent if they want to expand.
“If they can afford a million dollars on ad campaigns on television. They can afford to pay rent” she said. “Either to the public school that they’re in or to find their own space.”
The Manhattan Institute reported earlier this year that if the Department of Education charged charter schools rent at the rate suggested by the Independent Budget Office ($2,400 per pupil), 60 schools, or 71 percent, would have run a budget deficit.
De Blasio permitted the collocations of five charter schools to fulfill a requirement in the law mandating him to respond within 5-months to new charter school request. Since then, his administration has not determined a set policy on how they’re going handle the charter school movement overall.
“If a charter school is denied a collocation…their only other opportunity is to build a school which is very expensive,” said Senate co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein at the rally. “So I think giving them the capital dollars that they need to so that they can actually afford to build these schools I think is how we can make sure charter schools continue to grow.”
In response to the rally, Mayor de Blasio released a video via social media.
“I am devoted to each and every child in this city,” he says in the video. “I will reach out to all of the children, in traditional public schools, and charter schools, and religious schools, they are all our children.”
Mayor De Blasio’s last major education reforms expanded universal pre-k and after school programs citywide. His office has not commented on which way charters schools will grow yet.