Councilman says spending should be scrutinized
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Charging that the city is facing skyrocketing costs for charter schools, Councilman Stephen Levin has introduced a resolution in the council calling on the Department of Education to place a moratorium on new charter schools.
Under Levin’s plan, the Dept. of Education (DOE) would refrain from opening any new charter schools in New York City. The self-imposed moratorium would be in effect until the DOE produces a detailed report of how the funding levels for charter schools will grow over the next five years.
“We need a moratorium on new charter schools in New York City until there is an understanding of how this money is being spent now and at what level charter schools will be funded in the future,” Levin (D-Greenpoint-Williamsburg) said.
The resolution would only affect the New York City DOE and its actions on charter schools.
Charter schools are governed by New York State. Levin's resolution would not stop the New York State DOE or the State University of New York (SUNY), the entities which grant charters to schools, from moving ahead with plans to authorize more schools.
But the city DOE could, if it chose to, stop the process of co-locations, in which new charter schools are placed in regular public school buildings with the two schools sharing space.
The money picture of charter schools is cloudy, Levin said.
This year’s executive budget for New York City included a $210 million, or 25 percent, increase in funding for charter schools, according to Levin, who said charter schools are set to receive over $1 billion in funding.
“A 25 percent increase in charter school funding in a single year, at a time when fiscal constraints threaten other programs New York City residents depend on, is alarming,” Levin said.
According to the city’s website, there are 183 charter schools in the five boroughs.
The charter school budget is now almost double what it was just three years ago, Levin said.
Levin said the city’s budget has a single line to show the amount of funding that goes towards charter schools. There is no way to understand exactly how money in charter schools is being spent, he said.
Charter schools by and large, avoid paying for expenses like rent, Levin said. Still, the costs keep growing, he said.
Equally troubling, according to Levin, are recent media reports about charter school executives who are making hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, more than the city’s schools chancellor makes.
“The budget for charters is now over $1 billion – double the amount it was just three years ago – and the number of charter schools continues to grow. Yet there is no transparency, no accountability, and no oversight for how this money is being spent,” Levin said.
“With limited funds, we as a city must have a handle on where our money is going before allocating further funding into new charter schools,” Levin said.
James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Schools Center, a non-profit organization which assists charter schools, disputed Levin’s contention that charter school funding needs more accountability.
Charter schools are audited on a regular basis and that the funding “is not opaque in the least,” Merriman told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
In addition, Merriman said, charter school funding is set by state law.
Making life difficult for charter schools would have a negative impact on education, according to Merriman. “The real effect, given the high record of achievement of charter schools, is that we’ll have fewer students who learn to read and write, make beautiful drawings, and graduate,” he told the Eagle.
“The councilman has a number of charter schools in his district. There are hundreds of parents on waiting lists,” Merriman said. He charged that Levin’s resolution is seeking to deny parents the ability of having a choice in the education of their children.