New York

Nearly 70 city charter schools covered by suit seeking facility funds

Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx, one of nearly 70 schools in private space that could be impacted by a new statewide charter school funding lawsuit.

A new school funding lawsuit filed upstate could be a boon for nearly 70 charter schools in the five boroughs.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by four families from Buffalo and one family from Rochester, claims that the state shortchanges students in charter schools by not providing money for space. And while the complaint focuses on funding disparities in upstate cities, their claims would also apply to dozens of New York City charter schools that still aren’t guaranteed facilities funding.

The legal attack represents the latest front in a lengthy battle over charter school facilities funding, which has its roots in the 1998 law that first allowed charter schools to open in New York. Charter schools do receive some state funding, but they weren’t given access to the state’s building aid program, which subsidizes district school construction projects. When schools opened in private facilities, they had to set aside a chunk of their operating budget—meant for teachers and school supplies—toward expenses like rent, security, maintenance, and renovations.

In New York City, those costs can add up. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School Executive Director Daniel Rubenstein told Chalkbeat earlier this year that he had to set aside a little less than 20 percent of his $13 million budget to replace fire alarms, upgrade bathrooms and install a new science lab in addition to paying rent and other facilities expenses.

Most of the nearly 200 charter schools that opened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg received free space in city-owned buildings. But 68 charter schools, serving 25,000 students, operate in private buildings and spend, according to one tally, an extra $2,300 for every student on facilities.

This year’s state budget deal included a law that guarantees access to facilities for new and expanding charter schools in New York City. The deal was hailed as a big win for charter schools, but it did little for schools already open in private space. (More recently, some city charter schools, including the one Rubenstein runs, have said the law does apply to them and have applied for space.)

The law also did not address more than 50 charter schools outside of the city that operate in private space, where facilities costs are lower but still a heavy burden. Charter schools in western and central New York, for instance, spend up to $1,600 on facilities for every student, according to a report by the Northeast Charter School Network, an advocacy group that is part of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cites a study of funding disparities between charter schools and district schools that showed big gaps for charters in upstates cities. In Buffalo, for instance, charters receive $9,811 less for its students on average than district schools, a gap of more than 40 percent, the lawsuit states.

By filing a lawsuit, the parents and the charter advocacy group are following a strategy increasingly being employed by groups seeking to challenge state laws supported by teachers unions, like teacher job protection laws.

“We were really hopeful last session that they’d put a fix in to help charters statewide,” said Andrea Rogers, policy director of NECSN, referring to the lobbying campaign waged around access to facilities. “It did do a lot to protect the charter movement in New York City, but not all schools got the relief. So we need to take another approach.”

But increasing funds to charter schools could mean diverting money from district schools that are still struggling to recover from years of budget cuts. Opponents say that is unnecessary because charter schools can also tap private donors for a wide range of support.

Alliance for Quality Education advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari, an ally of teachers unions and Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that lawmakers should focus first on fulfilling the terms of a 2006 lawsuit settlement that was supposed to provide more funds for schools in poor districts.

“We are $5.9 billion behind on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity commitment, and this proposal will only divert more money away from public schools, at the expense of our children,” Ansari said.

 

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.