Charter sector launches marketing campaign to attract more English language learners

In an effort to attract more English learners to charter schools around the city, the New York City Charter School Center is kicking off a marketing campaign on television and online in multiple languages this week.

“We have to get the word out in every community in as many languages as possible,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

The Charter Center says that 6.3 percent of charter school students are English language learners, as compared to 15 percent of students in traditional public schools in 2012-13, according to the Independent Budget Office.

The marketing effort comes on the heels of a study showing that enrollment of English language learners still lags behind traditional public schools. The study, from the Manhattan Institute, attributed that gap to fewer students who don’t speak English enrolling in charter schools in kindergarten, rather than to charter schools “pushing out” English-learner students.

Charter schools have long faced criticism for serving lower proportions of special-needs students and English language learners. Meanwhile, the de Blasio administration and officials at SUNY, a charter authorizer, have both said they want to see charter schools make efforts to serve more high-needs students. Dozens of charter schools are also set to open in the city over the next two years, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said charter schools would need to be “inclusive” of special-education students and English language learners to co-locate in district buildings at a press conference last month.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has also been focusing attention on English learners and their families. She hired Milady Baez to run the office of English Language Learners. Last month, she touted the value of bilingualism with the visiting Queen of Spain. And in meetings and discussions about parent engagement, Fariña has frequently encouraged to include families and parents who do not speak English themselves.

As part of the marketing campaign, advertisements will run in Spanish- and Mandarin-language outlets. The Charter Center said it has also hired a dedicated staffer, Melissa Katz, to help schools attract non-English speakers.