Selected readings on US charter schools
De Blasio’s Plan to Charge Rent Leads to Protests—And Worst-Case Planning
Now, charter school operators are grappling with a potential game-changer: If Democrat Bill de Blasio is elected mayor, they would almost certainly have to pay rent.
Mr. de Blasio argues that charter schools in New York City, especially those with well-paid chief executives, should pay for space, just as charters do in much of the rest of the country.
“There is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent, OK?” Mr. de Blasio said in June, referring to the head of the city’s largest charter-school network. “There are charters that are much, much better endowed in terms of resources than the public sector ever hoped to be.”
To fight back, Ms. Moskowitz and a few other charter operators plan a rally on the steps of City Hall next week. The rally is a reprise of one that drew thousands last year in an attempt to show the political strength of the parents whose children attend charter schools.
The Democratic nominee for mayor has repeatedly said he would charge rent to the roughly two-thirds of city charter schools that are in Department of Education space, though he hasn’t said how much. A de Blasio spokesman said rent would be charged on a “sliding scale,” with schools with more resources likely to pay more.
A report from the city’s Independent Budget Office in 2010 estimated that charters annually saved about $2,700 a student, or about 20% of costs per pupil, by getting free space in public buildings compared with those charter schools in private space.
“It’s been a tremendous fuel for the growth,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.
Some charter operators said that if they had to pay rent, they would launch private fundraising campaigns, cut services or shelve the openings of new charter schools.
Morty Ballen, the chief executive officer of Explore Schools, said his network of four schools could be forced to cut support services to students who need it most. “Would we cut those services? Would we have to privately raise money for services our students are entitled to?” he said. “It would create a real dilemma.”
The change could happen quickly: The city Department of Education doesn’t have leases with any of the roughly 120 charter schools situated in its buildings. Those charter schools often operate alongside traditional city schools, sharing cafeterias, playgrounds and other facilities. That proximity can cause sore feelings when parents, students and teachers see some charter schools refurbishing space with privately raised money.
Charter school operators have had to plan for this eventuality. The two authorities that approve charter schools—the state Board of Regents and the State University of New York’s board of trustees—require applicants who want to run schools in city space to present two plans: one academic and budgetary plan if they receive free space from the city, and another if they don’t.
The worst-case-scenario plan often involves cutting back on the number of specialized classes or reducing staff. “It is pretty significant,” said Bill Clarke, director of the charter school office at the state Education Department.
The Bloomberg administration has given space to the charter schools to give parents alternatives to the established system and put competitive pressure on district schools. Charter schools enroll New York City residents and receive public funds—more than $1 billion a year that passes through the city Department of Education, based on a state funding formula.
“It is beyond regressive to think about charging rent,” said Marc Sternberg, a city Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of allocating space. “This is the best of public education, and we welcome them into buildings that are as much theirs as they are ours.”
In other parts of New York state and throughout the country, charter schools often find space in church basements or shopping malls, or tap the private bond market, though they don’t have access to the same municipal bond-market rates as traditional district schools.
A Manhattan State Supreme Court justice in February ruled against a group of parents who had sued to force charters to pay rent. “There is no dispute that charter schools, through public funding and private donations, have access to more financial resources than those available to traditional public schools,” Justice Barbara Jaffe wrote in her decision. “Parents of public school students thus understandably bristle not only at the disparate treatment of the students, but at how open and notorious it is.”
But she said the parents had to take their case to the state education commissioner. The parents are appealing the decision.
While charter schools are often known for prolific fundraising, the schools receive less public funding per pupil than traditional district schools, the Independent Budget Office report found. A spokesman said the office hadn’t done an update to the 2010 analysis, but while the exact numbers might have changed, the general findings likely remained the same.
Source: The Wall Street Journal – by Lisa Fleisher