space debate

New York City greenlights Success Academy middle school after contentious space fight

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Success Academy has repeatedly fought the city for space. CEO Eva Moskowitz and parents protested at a Harlem school earlier this year.

Less than a year after Success Academy lost a battle to open a new middle school in a building shared by a small Brooklyn elementary school, city officials confirmed Wednesday that they plan to give the charter network the green light to open in that space starting next school year.

Success Academy Lafayette, a middle school that was forced to open in a different building this school year, will now likely move into the P.S. 25 building in Bedford-Stuyvesant — a year later than the charter network had hoped.

The decision is a belated victory for Success Academy, though it must still go through a public hearing process and a vote from the city’s Panel for Educational Policy.

But the broader story about Success Academy’s fight for space in the P.S. 25 building is far more complicated and is related to a separate and fraught court battle over whether a district elementary school as small as P.S. 25 should be allowed to remain open. To understand this latest move, it helps to know the complicated backstory behind this single Brooklyn school building.

Why did the city delay Success Academy opening a middle school in the first place?

It’s not uncommon for the city to butt heads with Success Academy over school space, so on some level it’s not surprising that there was a dustup. But in this case, Success had already been operating an elementary school in the building and had decided to move those students elsewhere and replace it with a middle school.

Normally charter schools must go through a public hearing process when they make a significant change like this to the way they use a school building, especially in cases where they share facilities with a district school.

Success assumed there would be no need to go through that process, since it looked as though the school operating in the building, P.S. 25, also known as the Eubie Blake School, would be closed. Then came a lawsuit challenging the city’s decision to close the school — and a judge’s ruling that P.S. 25 should stay open while the case continues to wind its way through court.

That created a problem for the charter network: By the time it became clear the district school would remain open, it was too late for Success to go through the formal public approval process. The network’s CEO Eva Moskowitz and parents called on the city to approve the middle school anyway on an emergency basis, but the education department declined to act. The result: Success wasn’t allowed to open a middle school in the building this school year. Instead, it opened in a building less than a mile away. (The network did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.)

If P.S. 25 closes, another charter school could open in the building

It’s unclear whether the city will be allowed to follow through on its plan to shutter P.S. 25. But if the closure goes through, the education department will likely reserve the space for another charter school, officials said Wednesday.

“We are working with District 16 and Success to meet the needs of our students and families,” education department spokesman Doug Cohen wrote in an email.

NeQuan McLean, president of the District 16 Community Education Council, said that while he does not generally support the growth of charter schools in the district, it is better to allow charter schools to share space with each other instead of with district schools.

“We have agreed as a community and a CEC to make that a charter building,” he said.

What’s up with the court battle over P.S. 25?

The lawsuit to keep P.S. 25 open banks on a complicated argument about how much power local community education councils have in school closure decisions.

Under state law, the councils have the authority to approve any changes to school zones and typically don’t have any power to block school closure decisions. But since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating the neighborhood’s children, forcing students to attend other schools in other districts or to enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

It’s possible that argument will gain traction. A similar lawsuit filed in 2009, and joined by the city’s teachers union, prompted the city to reverse plans to replace three elementary schools with charter schools. (A favorable legal outcome for the P.S. 25 parents could affect the procedure for closing schools in the future, but only if they are also zoned.)

The school’s supporters also argue that the school’s performance makes it an odd choice for closure: its state test scores last year put it among the highest-ranked elementary schools in the city. That stellar performance, however, could partly be the result of natural statistical swings in scores that can occur in schools that serve so few students. (The school’s math scores have shot up from 22 percent of students passing in 2015 to over 70 percent last school year.)

“All those kids will literally be forced to leave an excellent school that has managed to provide small classes and proven itself many times in terms of results,” Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy group Class Size Matters and a supporter of the lawsuit, wrote in an email.

Just 87 students are currently enrolled in the school, which is projected to spend nearly $50,000 per student this year, roughly double the city average. (That number could fluctuate this year, since more students appeared to have enrolled than the city expected, but final numbers won’t be available until later this fall.)

Still, no matter what happens in court, it is unlikely P.S. 25 will remain open. Even if the lawsuit forces the education department to abide by a vote from the local education council, its members want the school to close, its president said.

“If the question is would we be willing to change the zone lines so that the DOE would be able to close the school? The answer is absolutely,” said McLean, the community education council president.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that spending per student at P.S. 25 is based on a city projection. 

Sticker shock

In Illinois, child care costs eclipse rent, making it one of least affordable states  

The average annual cost of child care now outpaces what families spend on a year of rent in Illinois, according to a new report that examines child care costs nationwide.

Illinois is one of the 15 least affordable states in the country, according to the report from the Virginia-based nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. The nonprofit examined costs across the United States and adjusted them for median income and cost of living.

“Families are seeing that child care is a significant portion of the bill they have to pay,” rivaling the cost of college tuition, rent, and even sometimes mortgage payments in some areas of the country, said Dionne Dobbins, senior director of research at Child Care Aware.  

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant in Illinois has reached $13,474 — which is a staggering 52 percent of the median income of a single-parent family in the state and nearly 15 percent of the state’s median married couple’s income.

That figure put it 13th among the least affordable states, which were ranked by the percentage of a single-parent family’s income spent on child care. Massachusetts topped out at nearly 65 percent of a single-parent family’s median income for center-based infant care.

In Illinois, care for toddlers and older children before and after school also consumed a greater percentage of a family’s income compared with other states. Illinois ranked 14th for toddler care as a percentage of median income, with an average cost of $11,982 for full-time toddler care at a center.

The state was among least affordable for the cost of three months of summer care.

 

Illinois offers a child care subsidy intended to offset the costs of care for low-income working families, but that program has been rocked by shifting eligibility requirements and compliance issues. Participation in the program has dropped by a third since 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration changed eligibility requirements.

Dobbins said that, across the United States, child care subsidy programs are under pressure as states tighten compliance and lower reimbursement rates. In some states like Illinois, rising minimum wages have rendered some families ineligible for subsidies or staring down co-pays that they can’t afford.

Dobbins said that nationally, only one in six children eligible for subsidized child care actually ends up using it.

 

words of advice

Here’s advice from a social worker on how schools can support transgender students right now

PHOTO: Getty Images
A flag for transgender and gender noncomforming people is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park.

Soon after news broke that the Trump administration could further roll back civil rights protections for transgender students, one New York City teacher sent an email blast to her fellow educators.

She was searching for materials to use in biology class that reflect people of different gender identities, but couldn’t find anything.

Many city educators may similarly grapple with how to support transgender students after it was reported that the Trump administration is considering whether to narrowly define gender based on a person’s biology at birth — a move that could have implications for how sex discrimination complaints in schools are handled under federal Title IX.

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg — a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center — has some tips for navigating the questions and emotions this latest proposal might surface. He runs a support group for transgender teens and their peers who want to be allies, and says the most important advice is to just be willing to talk and listen.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis,” he said. “By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support.”

Here’s what he had to say about recognizing transgender students, the protections that New York City and state offer, and some mistakes to avoid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your tips for how to explain the news to students and young people?

If it’s news like this, that’s hard to maybe pin down what it exactly means (this was a memo, and does it have teeth? What does it mean?) I would look to them for the feeling of it. That’s what’s really important and a lot of what’s going on is just fear mongering, and a denial of trans existence. And that is something our young people will be able to speak to, to no end, and that they’re not strangers to — especially under this administration.

I would want to help ground things and offer some reassurance that a memo doesn’t have teeth and that we can look to our local New York City and state protections — that we’re lucky to live in a place that has such strong protections, especially for students.

What kinds of protections should New York City students expect to have in schools?

A student in New York City could expect to use the facilities that align with their identity, and could expect to possibly see all-gender facilities in their schools — as there are more and more of those being converted. They can expect to be able to file or register a complaint of discrimination against other students or even staff, and can expect to have an LGBT liaison within the Department of Education. They can expect to have their name and pronoun respected and utilized, and come up with a plan with a staff member around, if they’re transitioning socially or in any form at school, how they would like to be supported and how that looks in each unique situation.

It doesn’t always happen. But the fact that we do have it in policy means that there’s a means to pursuing it and that the institution is on the side of the trans or gender non-conforming student and would help to rectify any situation that’s feeling unsafe or unsupportive.

How can teachers and adults show support for their transgender students right now?

I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis. It shouldn’t be necessarily on any student to bring it up. By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support. Even though this is a memo and we’re all waiting to see what they’re going to try to do with it, we know the intentions behind it…

I think we can speak directly to that and not make the debate about, ‘Is there or isn’t there a trans experience?’ That’s maybe one of the most powerful things. Yes, we exist. And if you’re an ally: ‘I’m a witness. You exist. You’re valid and as valid as anybody else.’

What would that validation look like in a school setting, say, if you’re a math teacher?

I think that making things visible is powerful. So if there’s a public bulletin board in a hallway and it says, ‘We stand with our trans staff and students,’ and then people have an opportunity to sign it.

I really think it can be an individualized response by a school depending on that school’s culture and if there is leadership by students, say, ‘We would like to be vocal and explicit in our support. You come up with the idea.’ Or, not to put it on them but say, ‘We’d love to be guided or get input from you on how to do that,’ so it is, wherever possible youth and trans-led.

Say, ‘What do you need and what can we provide?’

What should teachers and adults avoid saying or doing at a time like this?

I think a common, misguided mistake — that’s not necessarily hateful, but is really harmful nonetheless — is propping up a debate that’s going to hinge on ‘Do trans people exist?’ Or, ‘Defend or argue against sex being a binary, scientific, biological basis to view narrowly.’  

If a teacher wanted to engage with this but the assignment were more like, ‘What are your thoughts,’ there is so much education that needs to be done first — and that can put a person’s very identity and being up for debate in a classroom setting.

Another really bad thing would be just to ignore it because people are maybe scared of going there or don’t know what to do.