back pay

Judge dismisses suit to make co-located charter schools to pay rent

A judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking $100 million in rent from charter schools that have for years occupied space for free in public school buildings.

The lawsuit, filed by parents and advocates nearly two years ago, claimed that the city Department of Education was in violation of state education law by giving city-owned space to privately managed charter schools at no charge. The parents estimated that the annual free ride cost more than $96 million, a total they sought to steer toward hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes after years of budget cuts.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe didn’t rule on the fundamental issue of whether charter schools should pay rent. Instead, she ruled that it is not the court’s role to settle disputes over state education law. She said that must first go through the State Education Department, a  precedent that was established in the UFT’s 2010 suit against rising class sizes.

But even as Jaffe ruled against the parent groups, she wrote that the concerns they raised were legitimate.

The charter sector has thrived under the Bloomberg administration, which has awarded free space to more than 60 percent of 159 charter schools. The schools are often placed alongside existing schools in a controversial arrangement known as “co-location.”

Critics have said that the policy introduces stark inequities and breeds unnecessary tension, issues that Jaffe suggested were valid.

“There is no dispute that charter schools, through public funding and private donations, have access to more financial resources than those available to traditional public schools,” Jaffe wrote. Those resources, she continued, are used for improvements for charter schools that are “within the full view of traditional public school students.”

“Parents of public school students thus understandably bristle not only at the disparate treatment of the students, but at how open and notorious it is,” Jaffe wrote.

Despite Jaffe’s parting shot, charter school advocates treated the ruling as a decisive victory that would put the controversy to bed.

“We hope that we can now finally move beyond this debate and have serious discussions with all of New York City’s education stakeholders about how to ensure that the city’s students have access to high quality schools in every neighborhood,” James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Sector, said in a statement.

“This is a fundamental victory that preserves quality education options for our students and their parents,” city spokeswoman Erin Hughes said. “Mandatory rent would place a tremendous financial burden on charter schools and in some cases could force closures.”

Seth Andrew, who runs four Harlem charter schools open in public space, said an unfavorable ruling would have had a profoundly negative impact his students.

“For most of our schools, we would have had to close our doors,” said Andrew, who is superintendent of Democracy Prep Public Schools, which also operates two schools in leased private space. Andrew said per-pupil costs in schools in private space is at least $2,000 more than his co-located schools.

The decision comes as the city prepares for a new mayor who may not be as friendly to the charter school sector as Bloomberg has been. Three Democratic candidates have called for a moratorium on co-locations.

A fourth candidate, front-running Speaker Christine Quinn, has said that she would not charged rent to charter schools.

Andrew said that the timing of the court’s decision could send a message to candidates thinking about charging charter schools rent in the future.

“Mayoral candidates who may want to amend the mayor’s policies on co-location now must do so using both a political and a legal lens,” he said.

New York City Parents Union’s Mona Davids, who represents one of two parent groups listed on the law suit, said that she intends to challenge the ruling in court and through the State Education Department.

“The judge is saying that we didn’t exhaust all our remedies, so we will file the petition with King and we will file an appeal on the judge’s decision,” Davids said.

Judge dismisses $100 million charter school co-location rent lawsuit. by GothamSchools.org

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”