New York City charter school rent payments set to climb 54 percent this year

New York City’s bill for charter school rent is expected to jump significantly this year, education department officials confirmed.

The total cost is projected to reach $80 million this fiscal year, up from $52 million last year — a 54 percent increase.

Those payments will cover the cost for 90 charter schools that operate in private space, the result of a law that requires the city to pay for rent if it does not provide space in public buildings. Education department officials said the increase is due to rising rent costs and more charter schools being eligible to expand to serve higher grade levels.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said one driver of the cost increase is the city has opted to co-locate fewer charter schools in public buildings, an arrangement that can cause tension between district and charter schools that are forced to share space. Some charter schools have argued the city drags its feet on providing public space.

Education department spokesman Doug Cohen acknowledged that “space constraints” in public buildings are contributing to the increase in rental costs, adding, “We consult with families, school community members, and charter partners before proposing any charter school co-location.”

The price tag has also jumped in recent years because the state upped the amount of money charter schools receive to pay their rent — from 20 percent of their total per-student funding to 30 percent.

But the city is getting more help to pay the tab. Under the 2014 law, the state is required to pick up 60 percent of the cost of rent after the city spends $40 million, an amount that has been surpassed. (That means of the $80 million cost of rent this year, the city will have to shell out just $32 million.)

The city’s charter schools are allowed to operate in public buildings at no cost, a policy started under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is credited with the sector’s rapid growth. But in 2014, de Blasio signaled that he was considering an end to the practice, which prompted state lawmakers to require the city to pay for rent if they couldn’t provide public space — widely seen as a rebuke of the mayor.

Political winds have shifted since then, leaving charters in a more precarious position. Last month, the city reached the limit on the number of charter schools that can open — and new Democratic majorities in the State Senate have shown less appetite for allowing charter growth. (The cost of rent will still increase, however, in part because schools will be allowed to expand under existing charters to serve more grade levels.)

Meanwhile, de Blasio has been looking for other ways to score victories over the charter sector. He recently said he is reconsidering the city’s policy of helping charter schools by supplying demographic information to a vendor that charters use to send mailers to potential families.