unchartered territory

In New York City, a new siting process paves the way for more charter schools

The state budget bill’s expected passage includes several dramatic education policy shifts for the city, but perhaps none have been more fiercely debated than new provisions for providing new city charter schools with free or subsidized space.

Now that the dust has settled, the process that those charter schools will go through to get access to that space is under new scrutiny, as lawmakers and advocacy groups work to make sense of the new provisions.

The budget agreement doesn’t dig into the city’s mayoral control law, but it does dictate, quite specifically, what Mayor Bill de Blasio can and can’t do when apportioning public school space.

Here’s what we know about how the process will work. From now on, New York City is required to provide new charter schools with “access to facilities,” which is enshrined in law as either a free co-location plan or a rent subsidy for private space. After 2016, the state will cover some of the private costs.

Under the provision, eligible schools will need to submit a “written request” for public space, which state officials said could be done as part of their charter application. It is then up to the city to respond with an offer of city-owned space or pay a school extra to find its own facility.

But if de Blasio chooses the co-location route, he will be limited in where he can place the schools. The provision states that a school must get space in the district that its charter was approved for, meaning de Blasio could have trouble putting a school approved for the South Bronx in another high-needs area, such as East New York or Brownsville.

The law’s provision makes it clear that the plans also must follow the same rules governing its current co-location process.

For some lawmakers, the outlines weren’t enough of an explanation for how the space-allocation process—a fraught topic in New York City—will play out.

“No one can actually explain how this will actually work,” Manhattan Senator Liz Krueger said on the Senate floor while professing her opposition to the charter school provisions.

Harlem Assembly member Keith Wright, who sponsored a bill to curtail mayoral control because he disagreed with the Bloomberg administration’s handling of its space-sharing authority, said he was more supportive of the deal.

“I don’t know if I’m optimistic,” said Wright, whose district encompasses many of the charter school co-locations that have stoked the most controversy. “I’ll say I’m hopeful that we can at least stop the tension.”

Nevertheless, the law anticipates tension between the city and future charter schools and lays out a process for settling disputes over assigned space. Charter schools have 30 days after receiving the city’s offer to appeal, which can be done with a court lawsuit, a direct appeal to the state education commissioner, or through an independent arbitrator.

The teachers union and parents have often taken such legal action against the city in the past as a way to challenge Bloomberg’s charter school co-locations. Some were initially successful, but few, if any, resulted in reversing any co-locations purely through litigation.

It’s not clear how much these provisions will cost the city, state officials said. But de Blasio won’t have to pay much next year, when most of the new charter schools are already sited for public school space. And the three schools whose co-location plans were nixed by de Blasio in February are likely to get their space back as a result of the state legislation.

The city will incur more significant costs in the 2015-2016 school year and in subsequent years. In addition to the 24 schools approved to open next year and in 2015, the city is permitted to open an additional 52 schools under the state’s charter cap. Most of those schools have already been approved for public space and the de Blasio administration has said the 2015 plans are pending.

Under the new provisions, the city would be allowed to pay whichever is cheaper: the 20 percent extra in per pupil money, or the cost of rent that a private landlord is charging. 

One example of a charter school planning to open in 2015 is Charter High School for Law and Social Justice, which is seeking space in the South Bronx. If it opened in private space, they could be eligible, unless rent is cheaper, for roughly $333,000 from the city. The figure is based on additional per-pupil funding for 2015-2016, $2,775, and the 120 students who are projected to attend the school in its first year.


Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the future site plans for the Charter High School for Law and Social Justice. 

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father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.