space wars

City Council's UFT charter school support raises ire, eyebrows

People on both sides of the charter school fight are not happy about a hefty City Council earmark that’s going to the teachers union’s charter school.

The funding, sponsored by City Councilman Erik Dilan and approved last month in the council’s annual capital budget allocations, gives the union $2 million to develop a plan for moving its charter school out of the two East New York buildings it shares and into space of its own.

The announcement comes as charter schools and their critics are locked in fierce debate over how the city funds and allocates space to charter schools. That dispute is central to a lawsuit, filed in May by the UFT and NAACP, that seeks to stop 16 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding.

The lawsuit alleges that some charter schools receive disproportionate public resources, and some of its backers say the City Council earmark is another example.

Teacher activist Norm Scott called the funding “a double outrage, maybe a triple outrage.”

“The union makes the same deal the charters are making, taking $2 million of public money, while the public schools are starving? I don’t care if it were $1, it’s the symbol,” he said. “Let them raise funds like all the other charter schools.”

State Sen. Bill Perkins said he would have preferred to see money going to traditional public schools in need.

“I would give them, especially my colleague Bob Jackson, the benefit of the doubt that there’s no conflict in that regard, but it makes one want to look into it and find out where we’re going with this,” he said. Robert Jackson is the chair of the council’s education committee and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, as are Perkins and Dilan.

Charter school advocates are also unhappy that the union’s charter school is getting help while other charter schools are struggling to hold onto space in public school buildings.

“The fact that even the UFT needs millions of scarce taxpayers dollars to move its charter school into a private building underscores why charters continue to need access to public space,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

Of the 660 education projects funded by the City Council’s capital budget, only six payouts were over $1 million. They went to James Madison High School ($2 million), Susan Wagner High School ($1.95 million for a baseball field), PS 101 ($1.6 million), PS 65 ($1.5 million), High School for Service and Learning ($1.33 million for auditorium renovations) and Brooklyn Technical High School ($1.25 million for an auditorium).

Though the council’s budget document says the money is for “community charter school construction,” the $2 million for the UFT charter school was classified as economic development spending, not education spending.

The city’s own capital budget for schools allocates $210 million for charter school construction. So far, that money is slated to help construct space for five charter schools.

Councilwoman Letitia James said she didn’t think that the council’s allocation to a charter school was “odd at all.” Anything that eliminates the problem of co-location is worth the expense, said James, who is also a plaintiff in the UFT-NAACP lawsuit.

UFT spokesman Peter Kadushin said the money will be used for planning the potential space, which will include a community center and health clinic. Providing those wraparound services would be consistent with the union’s previous pushes for community schools.

Longtime UFT member Peter Goodman said that $2 million was just a “pittance” for the tens of millions that a full facility could cost, though it could pay for planning and perhaps some of an abandoned site in East New York.

“The only way you can get that is probably through the federal government, some federal program where they’re really providing money,” he said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”