By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Late on Friday, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina said the city would be shifting $210 million in capital funding earmarked for charter schools to fund 2,100 new pre-kindergarten seats and reduce class size.
School officials are also hoping for an additional $800 million from the New York State Smart Schools Bond Act, which would have to be approved by voters.
“These revisions will help us create high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten seats citywide that will deliver strong instruction," Farina said in a release. Besides creating 2,100 new full-day pre-K seats, Farina said the additional money would also add 4,900 new seats to the school system.
The reprogrammed funds are just a fraction of the total $12.8 billion capital plan, which would add 39,500 seats overall to the city’s schools by 2019, said School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo.
Charter school advocates, who campaigned in October against de Blasio's plan to charge rent to charter schools, say they are outraged and are planning another protest.
"Educational homelessness for public charter school students is now the official policy of the de Blasio administration,” Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips said in a statement.
Phillips added, "If the De Blasio administration takes away funding for construction along with access to vacant space in public school buildings, the cold hard reality is that tens of thousands of New York City students will be denied a chance for a better education."
Charter schools are privately managed but funded with public money, and throughout the Bloomberg administration have been given space inside traditional public school buildings for free. Chancellor Farina has promised to look into the city process of deciding which schools have "vacant space," a process that often leads to recess in auditoriums and 10 a.m. lunch times.
Mayor de Blasio campaigned on the promise of universal pre-K, backed by a minor tax on those earning more than $500,000 a year, and additional after-school programs for middle schools students. He also promised significant reforms in the way the Department of Education implements the co-locations of charter schools into traditional school buildings.
Parents have long complained that the co-locations are disruptive and drain resources such as libraries, gyms and special-ed facilities from the existing students. Fewer special needs kids attend charter schools, according to a recent report by the Independent Budget Office.
Many charters receive funds from outside groups for new furniture, books and technology, while the traditional public schools in the same building make do.
In 2012, hundreds of parents in Cobble Hill and nearby neighborhoods protested the co-location of a Success Academy Network charter school into an existing Cobble Hill public school complex, Global Studies High School on Baltic Street. (Two other schools also share the site: School for International Studies and P.S. 368K.)
Parents at Global Studies complained that the politically-connected Success Academy charter received preferential treatment from the start.
The Success space was transformed “into a modern and sleek school, while the three public schools have languished,” they said. A teacher at Global Studies pointed out that kids at the three public schools ate traditional DOE fare for lunch, while the charter school kids had a separate kitchen with food catered by Fresh Direct.
Most disturbing, however, was the news that dangerous PCB-containing lighting fixtures had been removed from the Success charter school, but not from the three regular public schools in the same building. De Blasio, at that time the Public Advocate, called on the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the NYC School District to investigate.
The Department of Education said at that time that millions of dollars had been spent on the traditional schools as well.
Success Academy enjoys the strong backing of ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg and financial support from hedge fund founders and moguls like Joel Greenblatt of Gotham Capital, John Petry of Sessa Capital, and media giant Rupert Murdoch.
Dozens of co-locations, involving both traditional public schools and charters, were approved by Mayor Bloomberg’ PEP in October. According to WNYC, the city has requested more time to respond to a lawsuit that aims to prevent 19 new charter schools from opening.