Fight Heats Up in New York Over Politically Connected Charter Schools

I wonder if you have ever been to a hearing at your state capitol when the charter school lobbying armies come to town?  I have, and I must say I found it very intimidating to testify in a room where I was one of only half-a-dozen people speaking for public school funding among hundreds wearing matched t-shirts and trying to protect their particular charter. Can you imagine what people would say about the waste of tax dollars if a public school district closed school for the day and bused all the parents, children, teachers, and school administrators to storm the legislature?

That is what Eva Moskowitz, the proprietor of the Success Academy Charter  Schools did on Tuesday in New York.  The NY Times reports that Moskowitz closed 22 of her schools for the day so that children and parents could be transported to Albany.  Moskowitz was well connected during the Bloomberg era.  The new Mayor, Bill deBlasio, has accused Moskowitz of manipulating NYC politics to deprive the 1.1 million children in New York City’s public schools of funds intended for the public system.  Moskowitz’s $475,000 annual salary is more than double the salary of the school district’s chancellor.

Mayor deBlasio has openly challenged Moskowitz’s power.  “And another thing that has to change starting January is that Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place,” the NY Times quotes deBlasio as having announced at a rally last year.  “I have had a lot of contact with Eva over the years and this is documented.  She was giving the orders and chancellors were bowing down and agreed.  That’s not acceptable.”

The new mayor campaigned on the promise that under his watch the city would stop giving well-heeled charter schools free rent when charters co-locate in buildings that house the city’s traditional public schools.  And last week, while deBlasio and his new chancellor of schools, Carmen Farina, approved several of Moskowitz’s schools for next fall, they denied Moskowitz the right to open three schools because these particular plans would co-locate children in the primary grades into spaces in high schools where Farina believes safety issues could arise or would displace programs for children with special needs.

Moskowitz has been able to manipulate political power on behalf of her charter schools for some time.  For example, back in the summer of 2012, the State University of New York’s Charter Schools Committee granted a 50 percent increase in the tax-generated per-pupil management fee to Success Academy Charter Schools despite that the Success Network had posted a year-end surplus of $23.5 million and spent nearly $883,119 on publicity and student recruitment in the last year including fees of $243,150 to SKD Knickerbocker, a New York pubic relations firm, and $129,000 to a Washington, D.C. consulting firm.  Moskowitz’s well funded schools have resulted in bitterness among parents in the traditional schools where the charters have been co-located, because the public schools lack money to purchase the kind of equipment and programming Moskowitz’s schools provide—right in neighboring classrooms.

Serious questions have been raised over the years about attrition at Moskowitz’s Success Academies as one reason the schools have been able to post high test scores.  It is suspected that children who struggle are being counseled out of school as they move toward the upper grades.  What is known is that the Success Academies serve fewer students with special needs and children learning English.  The NY Times reports that Chancellor Farina recently raised these concerns: “Chancellor Farina said on Tuesday that while some charter schools ‘do great work’ in helping children with special needs, or those with limited English proficiency, Ms. Moskowitz  ‘makes it clear these are kids she cannot help, necessarily, because she doesn’t have the resources for them.'”

Eva Moskowitz clearly has one prominent supporter.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo showed up at Moskowitz’s Albany rally where he is reported to have declared, “We are here today to tell you that we stand with you.  You are not alone.  We will save charter schools.”

Mayor deBlasio attended another Albany rally instead, a rally of supporters for his proposal for universal pre-kindergarten for all of New York City’s children and for after school programs for pre-adolescents in the city’s middle schools. Governor Cuomo was not in attendance at this rally.

NYC Schools Capital Budget Shifts to Prioritize Preschool Classrooms over Charter School Co-Location

A quick Saturday post…

New York City’s new school chancellor has indicated a significant shift in priorities.  Yesterday as she described the school district’s capital improvement budget, she prioritized making sure there are enough preschool classrooms by taking money from the budget line formerly designated to prepare spaces for locating privately managed charters in public buildings.

The NY Times reports:  “The chancellor, Carmen Fariña, in describing the Education Department’s $12.8 billion capital plan, said she would seek to redirect $210 million that had been reserved for classroom space for charter schools and other nonprofit groups. The money, spread out over five years, would instead be used to create thousands of new prekindergarten seats…”