NEW YORK—For the first time, New York City will rent private space and give it to charter schools for free.
Three Success Academy charter schools the administration earlier prevented from moving into public school buildings will now move into three private Catholic school buildings, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office announced Saturday. A law passed in this year’s state budget requires the city to pay the rents.
The move may ease tensions on some fronts and spark new frictions on others. It is also not clear how expensive such a policy may get for the city as the charter school movement expands in the future.
Success Academy, the largest charter operator in the city with 22 schools, plans to have 100 schools by 2023, according to an August 2013 DNAinfo report.
The three schools had applied last year to share space in public school buildings, a process called co-location. The requests were previously approved by the Bloomberg administration.
Yet, de Blasio said during his campaign he would review the last slew of some 50 co-locations, because voices of parents and teachers have been ignored in the co-location process. He also proposed to charge affluent charters rent for public school space.
On Feb. 27 the Education Department, now under the leadership of Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, reversed 9 of the 49 previously approved co-locations, including ones for the three charter schools.
Charter Schools Successfully Rally
Many big charter networks felt threatened. “We’ve had six months of fairly hostile commentary [from de Blasio],” said Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, a support organization for charter schools in New York and Connecticut.
Charter advocacy organization Families for Excellent Schools organized a pro-charter rally on March 4 in Albany, and later launched a $4 million media campaign. The group said revoking one of the co-locations would prevent 194 charter school students from attending one of their schools in September.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos publicly endorsed charter schools during the several thousand-strong rally. The Success Academy network alone bused at least 2,000 students and parents to the event.
On April 1 the governor signed this year’s budget law that says the New York City charter schools are entitled to free space. The city can choose to find them space in public school buildings or rent them private space. Charter schools would also have to agree to any space changes the city may propose.
De Blasio chose to rent.
To lease private spaces for new and expanding charter schools may be a comfortable solution for de Blasio, according to David Bloomfield, education policy professor at CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn University. “This is just the beginning of many similar arrangements that will result from the new law,” he predicted in an email response.
This way the mayor can avoid public pushback to co-locations, while allowing the charters to expand.
It is also not clear how much it will cost the city. “As far as I know there has been no fiscal impact analysis released by the governor or the Legislature, and certainly none before they pushed through this law,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting overcrowding in New York City public schools.
The law says the state will pay a share of the rent costs that exceed $40 million a year. It is not clear how big of a percentage the state would pay though. Doug Turetsky, communications director at the Independent Budget Office, suggested 50 percent, but clarified that he wasn’t certain.
Haimson argues if the city could find money to pay rent for charter schools, it should have found money to lease space for students who attend the city’s many overcrowded schools.
“Why should charter schools get priority for free space when there are overcrowded communities in NYC that have been waiting 20 years for a new public school to be built or leased in their neighborhoods?” Haimson said in an email response.
The first three charter schools having private space rented for them are Harlem Success Academy 4, Success Academy Jamaica, and Success Academy City Hall. In September they will move into spaces at the Annunciation School, Pius X School, and Queens Mother Cabrini High School.
Lease negotiations are in progress with the three Catholic schools that will provide the space, according to the mayor’s office.