In November of last year, Bill de Blasio was voted into office as the first Democratic mayor of New York City since 1993. In his campaign, de Blasio promised progressive change that would improve the lives of the city’s eight million residents.
However, in early March de Blasio announced that the city’s education department would not be providing space for three charter schools in NYC, a decision that upset many parents and educators in the city’s education system.
Charter schools are publicly funded but are operated privately as the school’s administration sees fit. Success Academy, a chain of 22 charter schools, has been recognized as one of the country’s most successful charter schools. Results from last year’s state exams show the accomplishments of Success Academy—97 percent of third-graders scored proficient in math at one Success school compared to 14 percent at that district’s traditional public school. In reading, 77 percent at Success scored proficient, compared to 12 percent at the traditional school. As a result of its celebrated achievements, charter schools like Success Academy (which strive to help children who do not learn well in a traditional setting) are very competitive to get into. For every five applicants to Success, there is only one open seat.
Ironically, for all of their differences in test scores and administrative practices, charter schools in NYC have one important feature in common with the traditional public schools—both schools are usually found under the same roof. In fact, all of Success’ 22 academies are located within traditional public schools. A study released last year found that charter schools are benefiting at the poor’s expense, as traditional schools in poor districts are forced to give up classrooms and lunchroom space to accommodate the charter schools that coinhabit the building.
Mayor de Blasio is suggesting that charter schools with proper funding pay to rent classrooms within the schools that they share. Charter schools like Success Academy have students with diverse economic backgrounds, and are also fortunate to receive hefty donations. Last year’s donations reached $23 million. De Blasio said in his campaign that he believes charter schools should no longer live “rent free.”
In response to his announcement that three of Success’ proposed charter schools would be unwelcome to share territory with students at city high schools, parents of Success students went to federal court to charge Mayor Bill de Blasio with violating their children’s civil rights. De Blasio has compromised that he will find space for one of the academies, which enrolls 200 students, but he has held firm that the city will not provide free rent to the others. School chancellor Carmen Farina, who was appointed to her position by de Blasio, spoke of plans to use the $210 million traditionally spent on charter schools to instead jumpstart the mayor’s universal pre-kindergarten program.
Sources from the governor’s office have announced that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Senate will do all they can to find both space and money for the city’s charter schools. Cuomo has chosen the side of angry parents, which indicates that the outcome of the new mayor’s big decision will not likely end in de Blasio’s favor.