Budget Battle

In budget deal, a facilities boost for some—but not all—NYC charter schools

Updated, 11:25 p.m. New and expanding charter schools in New York City will get access to facilities funding, but existing charters already in private space will receive less aid, according to people briefed the framework of a state budget deal.

The deal also includes extra per-pupil aid for all charter schools, which would come from the state and be spread out over three years—an increase that would break several years of flat funding.

Legislators are still hammering out the final pieces of the state budget legislation and aren’t expected to submit a final budget until Friday. But they have come to an agreement on some major issues relating to charter school space-sharing problems, a centerpiece of the year’s negotiations.

The deal puts New York City on the hook to find space for charter schools in city buildings, something that the Bloomberg administration offered to about two-thirds of the city’s 183-school charter sector without a legislative imperative. If the city can’t or does not want to work out a co-location arrangement, it will have to pay schools extra so that they can afford to rent and operate in private space, according to the terms of the deal, the sources said.

A third-party arbitrator would make a final ruling if the city and a charter school disagrees over a co-location plan.

Those changes would be significant at a time when the de Blasio administration has dramatically tempered the Bloomberg administration’s enthusiasm for co-location. Earlier this month, it rolled back three space-sharing plans for Success Academy charter schools, although it also allowed several others to proceed.

De Blasio’s shift against charter schools ignited a public relations battle waged by Success CEO Eva Moskowitz and other charter school advocates. Their campaign received a lift from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who promised to “save” the sector so that it could continue to grow.

The following week, the State Senate’s budget proposal included a package of pro-charter school bills aimed at ensuring that the schools didn’t have to pay facilities costs out of their operating budgets.

One of those proposals, to offer privately-housed charter schools a share of state building aid, was not included in the deal, apparently getting yanked off the table as recently as yesterday. That will affect the city’s 68 charter schools in private space, as well as all 57 charter schools outside of the city in private space.

The omission disappointed advocates who hoped these schools, which put together serve about 45,000 students, would get more facilities help.

“We are happy to see that new charter schools in New York City will have access to space, but it’s unfortunate that schools in private space, both in the city as well as across the state, received nothing under this deal,” said Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips. “Their needs were just as severe.”

Charter schools in private space, because they must pay for facilities costs out of their operating budgets, have less money to use on educational programs. In New York City, the gap between district and co-located charter schools is about $3,500 and ranges from less than $1,000 to close to $3,000 elsewhere in the state.

“Those schools in private space have, in effect, been subsidizing the education of kids in the city,” Phillips added. “They’ve been paying for their own building and they got no help in this deal.”

The budget deal has one upside for all charter schools in the state, no matter where they are housed. Charter schools will receive an overall $500 increase in per-pupil funding over the next three years, starting with $250 next year. The funding will come from the state, saving de Blasio and from incurring new costs at a time when he is negotiating retroactive raises for the city’s teachers and planning a massive expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs.

The state will pay $125 per charter school student in the second year and $125 in the final year (A larger increase, which a spokesman for Speaker Sheldon Silver confirmed, was in the original version of this article). In just New York City, that would cost the state nearly $50 million based on the city’s charter school enrollment projections. Enrollment is estimated to grow from about 70,000 this year to 125,000 in three years. There are another 20,000 charter school students outside of New York City.

But New York City Charter Center CEO James Merriman said he saw it less optimistically. By his estimation, he said in a statement, the negotiated increase is worse off for charters than than the funding mechanism originally proposed in Cuomo’s budget proposal in January. That would have lifted a per-pupil funding freeze that had been held flat at $13,527 for the last three years.

Instead, the freeze was extended for an additional three years, which means that districts won’t have to divert money away from its portfolio of district schools. The state’s $500 increase is designed to partially compensate for that, but Merriman said it wasn’t enough.

Referring to comments made by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to Capital New York on Thursday night, Merriman criticized that part of the deal.

“Speaker Silver’s assertion that the budget is a boon for charter schools and results in fair funding for charter and district schools, is highly misleading,” Merriman said in a statement.

The final budget is not yet complete and lawmakers are still hammering out details about what kind of access charter schools will have to pre-k funding, sources said. If lawmakers want to have the budget bill ready for an on-time vote on Monday, they must finalize the language by the end of the day on Friday.

But legislative leaders said that they were nearing the finish line. Senate co-leader Jeff Klein said that all that was left was wrapping up “technical details.”

“We’re very very close to an agreement in everything,” Klein said.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the total per-pupil increase that charter schools would receive under the state’s tentative deal.

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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.