As parents and advocates, we are convinced that the bill being promoted by the charter school lobby to raise the cap on charter schools would seriously harm the city’s children who attend both district and charter schools.
We have seen how the city’s charter school operators have misused public funds for their own private ends because of lax financial oversight. We have seen how too often, children enrolled in charters have received inappropriately harsh discipline, and have been suspended or “pushed out” of school, especially those with learning issues or disabilities. We have seen how the city’s Department of Education has pitted parent against parent in fighting over space, in a school system that is badly overcrowded. And we have seen how both the DOE and charter school operators have deprived parents of a voice in how their children are educated.
Unlike the bill earlier passed by the Assembly, this bill would bar the State Comptroller from auditing the books of charter schools, despite the financial scandals that have erupted in New York and throughout the country regarding conflicts-of-interest, self-dealing and misuse of public funds. It would continue to allow for-profit management companies to try to make a buck off our children, despite the cuts that are decimating school budgets. And it would deny parents from having any say in where these schools are located, intensifying bitter battles that already are ripping communities apart and leading to more overcrowding and the loss of critical cluster spaces and libraries.
Class Size Matters and the New York Charter Parents Association have developed a framework of shared principles for district and charter parents, calling for enhanced accountability, transparency, and protection of parent and student rights at both sets of schools. (Read our framework at the end of this piece.)
For example, all charter schools should be required to have a Parent Association, as well as a parent sitting on their boards of directors. In our work, we’ve found that right now, many New York City charter schools disallow PAs, including all those in the Uncommon Schools chain, including the school that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited last week.
The rules that govern charter schools’ operation should be posted online; now it takes a costly Freedom of Information request to obtain this basic information. Community Education Councils should reserve a seat for a charter parent, and CECs as well as parents at existing schools should have the authority to approve charter school sitings inside their school buildings.
Reportedly, the Senate bill was passed due to the aggressive lobbying of Education Reform Now, whose board is made up almost entirely of hedge fund operators who are holding out the promise of campaign dollars in exchange for legislators’ votes. These hedge fund operators do not have children in city public schools, and have made false claims in their lobbying efforts. Their ads, claiming that if the state passed a “few common sense education reforms,” New York could receive $700 million in federal funds to help prevent budget cuts to schools, are plastered all over the internet.
The reality is quite different. Even if New York won a portion of these funds, known as Race to the Top, the rules are quite restrictive as to what they can be spent on, as Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said at a City Council hearing on May 14. The funds cannot be used to fill holes in the state or city budgets, whether to prevent damaging increases in class size or the threatened elimination of 6,400 teaching positions.
Their deceptive tactics are also revealed by a flyer that Education Reform Now produced and distributed for Long Island State Sen. Craig Johnson, a prominent supporter of lifting the charter cap, who does not have a single charter school in his district. Yet the flyer does not mention the issue of charter schools, presumably because his suburban constituents would not favor their expansion, but instead praises his efforts to increase education funding “to reduce class size,” though we can find nothing in his record focusing on this issue.
We believe strongly that the cap on charter schools should not be lifted without more transparency, accountability and rigorous protections of the rights of all parents, students, and taxpayers. If the Senate bill became law, corruption and abuse would continue to flourish and the parent voice would continue to be silenced. Most important, it would damage the conditions under which our children learn.
Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. Mona Davids is the Executive Director of the NY Charter Parents Association.