The new ‘Three Rs’ for charter schools: ‘Reading, ‘Riting and Rallying’
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thousands of high-energy New York City charter school kids got to skip school on Tuesday morning.
Instead of prepping for high-stakes tests, elementary-age charter students were bussed to Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn where they were given yellow T-shirts and signs protesting mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio’s plan to charge rent to charter schools.
Kids, parents and teachers chanting “No Rent” marched over the Brooklyn Bridge as speakers from the Success Academy charter school chain exhorted them from a bandstand set up near the bridge’s entrance.
“My daughter deserves the same right as every kid in public school,” said parent Edna Rodriguez, marching with her daughter, a second-grader at the Bronx 2 Success Academy. “Politicians want to charge us rent.”
Many charter schools in New York City are “co-located” into public school buildings for free, a controversial practice that many traditional public school parents say is disruptive, and one that takes resources away from their kids.
Parents in public schools across Brooklyn have protested co-locations by Success Academy charter schools, most recently at Seth Low Intermediate School in Bensonhurst. If Success Academy is permitted to set up shop in Seth Low, parents told the Brooklyn Eagle, the building could quickly become overcrowded, crowding out students from District 20.
Parents also expressed concern that the presence of the charter school would set up a two-tier class system in which the charter school’s students would be given the best of everything, including iPads, while their Seth Low counterparts are left to languish in overcrowded classrooms with five-year-old textbooks.
De Blasio, a Democrat who is outpolling his Republican challenger Joe Lhota by 50 percent, has said he would charge rent to charter schools and reassess the co-locations.
"As Mayor, Bill de Blasio will work with all our schools, but he believes that well-resourced charter networks should pay for the use of school space, as charter schools do across the country, and he'll put a moratorium on co-locations until we can better assess their impact," de Blasio spokesperson Dan Levitan told the Eagle on Tuesday.
While charter schools are publicly funded, they are privately run and some, such as the rapidly-growing Success Academy network, founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz and backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, receive major support from corporations and Wall Street firms with deep pockets.
Raising eyebrows among education advocates, Moskowitz told the parents of her network’s students last week that their participation in Tuesday’s political march was mandatory.
In an email message to parents obtained by the educational website GothamSchools, Moskowitz wrote, “Your child’s education is threatened. Our very existence is threatened. Opponents want to take away our funding and our facilities,” she wrote. “These attacks are a real danger — we cannot stand idly by.”
Marching over the Brooklyn Bridge was Reshma Ramkellawan, Leadership Resident at Success Academy Harlem East. “I wish I had access to the type of education we provide to our scholars, growing up,” she said. “To financially impede our schools would be an immense disservice to our society and the children we educate.”
Education historian and policy analyst Diane Ravitch, however, commented on GothamSchools that New York City charter schools have deviated from their original intent. “The original purpose of charters, when they first opened in 1990 (and when I was a charter proponent), was to collaborate with public schools, not to compete with them or undermine them. They were supposed to recruit the weakest students, the dropouts, and identify methods to help public schools do a better job with those who had lost interest in schooling.”
Providing free space to charters may also be illegal. NY State Education Law requires that any contract to school space with a charter “shall provide such services or facilities at cost.”
“Yet the DOE provides free space and services for more than 100 co-located charter schools,” Arthur Schwartz, attorney with Advocates for Justice said in a statement Tuesday. “Using figures from the NYC Independent Budget Office, we estimate that the space and services these charter schools currently receive is worth more than $100 million a year.”
Republican candidate Joe Lhota has said he strongly supports charter schools, according to AP. About 70,000 of New York City's 1.1 million public school pupils currently attend charter schools.