De Blasio Offers Olive Branch to Charter Schools, Keeps Policies

March 23, 2014 10:13 pm Last Updated: March 24, 2014 6:48 am

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed a major shift in tone on charter schools Sunday, casting them in a positive light and devoting a major part of an education policy speech to the matter.

The mayor did not, however, outline any specific changes in policy toward charter schools. The mayor spoke to an enthusiastic and supportive congregation at the progressive-oriented Riverside Church in West Harlem.

On Feb. 27 the city’s Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña denied space in public school buildings to three charter schools. One of them, Success Academy Harlem 4, is currently outgrowing its space. The denial meant the school’s operator would have to find private classrooms for 194 children in September.

The administration promised to find an alternative space for the students, after protests and a multimillion-dollar ad campaign by Families for Excellent Schools, a charter schools advocacy group.

“I didn’t measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city. So let me start to right the ship now,” de Blasio said. “We are going to make sure those 194 children have a good home this year.”

The problem is that many parents feel their children need to escape schools in their neighborhood, de Blasio said. 

However, the reality is that most students have little chance of attending a charter school. Despite a growth of over 600 percent over the past decade, charter schools still serve only 6 percent of the city’s students.

“The answer is not to find an escape route that some can follow and others can’t. The answer is to fix the entire system,” the mayor said, drawing applause.

There are 183 charter schools in the city and 65 percent are co-located—that is sharing space with other schools in public school buildings. The growth of the charter sector came, to a degree, at the expense of public schools made to share space with them, de Blasio said.

The Education Department set up a team to review the way it assesses available space in school buildings. The team has met once so far, two weeks ago.

The mayor also called for better cooperation and sharing of ideas between traditional public schools and charter schools. The city needs to re-engage the idea that charter schools should “help to uplift our traditional public schools,” he said.

De Blasio’s recipe to fix the root causes is to set up universal prekindergarten and after-school programs in middle schools. He also added emphasis to two additional strategies: Keeping good teachers in the system and engaging parents.

“Our mission is to create a city in which, regardless of zip code, your neighborhood public school is a great option for your child,” the mayor said, earning another 15 seconds of roaring applause.