A group of charter school leaders eager to get along with the Bill de Blasio administration are working behind the scenes to address concerns raised by the mayor.
They have drafted a framework for how the charter sector can work within the education agenda laid out by de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who have each criticized some charter schools. In the framework, obtained by Chalkbeat, the leaders cast themselves as progressive and say they are committed to serving more high-needs children, collaborating with district schools, and lobbying the state for more facilities funding.
“New city policies affecting charter schools should promote partnership and the administration’s progressive values,” it says.
The framework also states that charter schools should be held accountable for serving students at risk of academic failure, implying support for new enrollment rules. Those could involve new requirements for backfill, or whether students who leave a school are replaced with new students. Charter schools aren’t required to fill those seats: some don’t at all, and some restrict the grade levels at which they do.
Fariña has the authority to require schools to accept enrollment rules in order to operate in public space, though she has control over few other aspects of charter school governance.
The lobbying memo is the clearest look yet at how one chunk of the charter school sector is hoping to work with de Blasio, who has been a vocal critic of charter schools. But the framework draws the line at the issue of charging charter schools rent to operate in city-owned buildings, which de Blasio has said he will do.
Unless the schools are provided facilities funding, charging rent “would impair charters’ ability to educate all students and undermine the city’s ability to advance its progressive agenda though charter schools,” it says.
The group represents only a small fraction of the city’s charter schools. Its members include leaders of unionized schools, and several whose schools have weighted lotteries that give preference to high-needs students. Leaders of all of the city’s large charter management organizations, including Uncommon Schools, KIPP and Achievement First, are absent, as is Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz, who has been in the crosshairs of much of de Blasio’s criticism.
The group’s members are the city’s former charter schools director Jonathan Gyurko, Harlem RBI executive director Rich Berlin, Renaissance Charter School principal Stacey Gauthier, New Visions president Bob Hughes, Children’s Aid Society CEO Richard Buery, ROADS Charter Schools CEO Jemina Bernard, Bronx Charter School for Better Learning founder Ted Swartz, and Future is Now president and Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr, according to the memo.
Some charter management organizations have taken a decidedly different approach to responding to de Blasio’s positions. They’ve organized a series of protests this month targeted at de Blasio’s allies in city government who are seeking to reverse plans that would put charter schools in city-owned buildings next year. They also organized a large rally last October to demonstrate their popularity among families, many of who come from low-income neighborhoods.
Together, the public protests and the more private framework indicate how the charter sector is delicately balancing its desire to grow and avoid paying rent with its relationships within City Hall and the Department of Education. The contrasting approaches date back to at least two summers ago, when a large portion of the charter sector sat out of another large charter school rally.
Fariña has said her team is still in the process of reviewing co-locations approved at the end of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term, and has yet to provide specifics about a plan for charter schools in public space to pay rent.
Gyurko indicated that the framework’s creators would continue looking for support, calling it a “first-draft effort” to start a dialogue among charter leaders.
“Steve Barr and I reached out to some friends in the NYC charter community to talk about ways in which we might work together to further the Mayor’s and the charter school community’s shared goal to improve public education. We think there’s a lot of common ground to build on,” Gyurko said in a statement.
Gauthier said there is a lot of common ground between her and the mayor’s vision for the school system. The group is “hopeful that we can reach solutions through dialogue, not mud-slinging,” she said.
Here’s the full memo:
Draft Framework for a Progressive Charter School Sector: Equitable Responsibilities and Equitable Resources
Charter schools can be an important part of the administration’s education agenda. Charter and district schools should collaborate. Charters should share their innovations. New city policies affecting charter schools should promote partnership and the administration’s progressive values.
1. Charter schools should be held accountable for serving poor children, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other students at-risk of academic failure and should have enrollment practices that are comparable to other public schools.
2. Charter schools that educate their fair share of students should receive an equitable share of public resources, comparable to the resources available to district schools.
3. Charter schools, like district schools, do not receive facilities funding. Access to public space has levelled the playing field, providing charter schools with about the same public resources that a district school spends on teachers, curriculum, and other programmatic expenses.
4. Charging charter schools rent, absent a dedicated line of facilities funding, would create a financial inequity that would impair charters’ ability to educate all students and undermine the city’s ability to advance its progressive agenda though charter schools.
5. The city needs new capital funding to house Pre-K programs, for enrollment growth, and to modernize aging buildings. The city and charter schools should together lobby for additional facilities funding. A portion of new capital dollars should be dedicated to charter schools as part of an overall strategy that meets the city’s capital needs.
6. Subject to securing facilities funding for charter schools, those charters located in public buildings should use such funds to defray the cost of building maintenance and operations.