Two years ago ago in an interview with Peter Meyer, former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein contemplated the impact of ending the Bloomberg Administration’s practice of allowing charter schools to use empty space in traditional city school buildings. It would be “absolutely catastrophic,” Klein told Meyer. “It’s not just bad for the charters but for the children…. Charter schools are public in every meaningful way…. The public schools don’t pay rent, the charter schools, which are serving the same kids, shouldn’t pay rent.”
But that’s exactly the approach taken by current Mayor Bill de Blasio and this weekend the New York Post went into full castigation mode in two separate editorials. (Irony note: twenty-five years ago Minnesota passed the nation’s first charter school law and this week is the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ annual conference that kicked off today with a keynote by civil rights activist and educator Howard Fuller.)
From the Post's assessment of de Blasio’s “I love charters whopper” (after the Mayor deigned to visit the second of two charter schools during the entirety of his first term):
de Blasio’s hostility to charters is a matter of public record, in both word and action.
He “hasn’t lifted a finger” to expand these alternative public schools, despite “waiting lists for charter seats of nearly 50,000. Just the opposite: He actively thwarts their growth, denying them space, even as 150,000 classroom seats in regular schools sit empty.”
The second editorial chastises the Mayor for refusing to let charter schools use empty space in traditional school buildings, even though state law requires taxpayers to pay rent to charters that have to secure private facilities:
De Blasio insists — with zero evidence — that “co-locating” a charter on the same site somehow harms the existing public school. In fact, the only “harm” is that it lets kids and parents at the regular public school see how much better-run the average charter is.
The city Independent Budget Office estimates that co-located charter schools saved $2,700 per student, compared to charters in private space….The city’s already shelling out $40 million a year for charters’ rent, and that amount is likely to soar if de Blasio keeps needlessly refusing to let good schools open up in space that’s going unused."
The Post concludes in the first editorial that the Mayor privileges teacher union support over quality schools: his “ real problem” with charters is that “they out-compete the regular schools — especially when it comes to teaching black and Hispanic kids. One reason they do better is that they’re mostly free of the union rules that burden regular public schools. So the union despises them, and de Blasio sides with the union.”
Maybe that's true. Certainly, many would agree. But here's what we know for sure: Mayor de Blasio’s anti-charter agenda, which includes his opposition to a successful, pragmatic practice of the previous Administration, oppresses parents who need equitable and adequate educational options for their children in a city where only 35 percent of students reach proficiency benchmarks in math and 30 percent reach proficiency benchmarks in reading.
The Mayor might want to spend a little more time in these alternative public schools. How about a third visit? In this case, familiarity may breed respect.