countdown

11 charter schools get permission to open in New York, bringing the city closer to the legal limit

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

Nearly a dozen new charter schools have gotten the green light to open in New York in the next three years, bringing the city closer to a looming limit on charters that has advocates fretting.

The SUNY Charter Schools Institute, one of two entities able to approve new charter schools for the state, signed off on 11 applications during a meeting in Albany Thursday. All of the schools aim to open in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and while several would be part of existing school networks, others would be the first for their operators.

The schools include a replica of Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, the racially and economically diverse school that also won approval this week to expand to Connecticut; a Montessori school that’s part of a nonprofit working to bring that model to low-income neighborhoods; and a basketball-themed school where students will not only play the sport but study it as well.

The approvals come as a longstanding debate has reignited over how many of the publicly funded but privately managed schools should be allowed to operate. Nodding to concerns that rapid growth could hurt local districts and schools, lawmakers have always capped the number of charter schools permitted in the city and the state, and today’s approvals leave just 17 slots that could go toward city schools.

Charter advocates say the cap will deter talented educators from seeking to work with New York City children. As the number of available charters dwindles, they’ve been calling more attention to the issue, including last week after state test scores showed that city charter school students are outperforming their peers on the exams.

They pressed their case again today. “SUNY’s approvals are good news for New York City families who will directly benefit from 11 new high-quality schools,” New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said in a statement. “With more approvals on the horizon it is more important than ever that the legislature lift the unnecessary cap on charter schools in New York City.”

Whether the issue has any chance of taking hold in Albany is unclear. Charter advocates lost crucial allies in the legislature last month when progressive Democrats unseated several lawmakers who had sided with Republicans on some issues, including charter schools. Many charter school critics say they are now hopeful that rather than loosening or even maintaining controls on the schools, lawmakers will tighten the reins. And after initially signaling an openness to charter schools, city Chancellor Richard Carranza recently joined Mayor Bill de Blasio in expressing firm opposition to lifting the cap.

As the cap quickly becomes a political flashpoint, charter operators continue to propose new schools. Counting applications currently under consideration by SUNY and the State Education Department, the state’s other charter authorizer, the cap could be exhausted as soon as the end of 2018, according to the charter center.

Meanwhile the federal education department this week revealed that it is giving up to $78 million to New York to support the hundreds of charter schools that are already in operation across the state.

Here are the newly authorized schools and where and when they aim to open:

  • Brilla Caritas Charter School and Brilla Pax Charter School in District 7 in the Bronx (2020)
  • Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in District 15 in Brooklyn (2019)
  • Capital Preparatory Bronx Charter School in District 12 in the Bronx (2019)
  • Central Brooklyn Ascend Charter Schools 4 & 5 in Brooklyn (2019)
  • DREAM Charter Schools Hunts Point (2019) & Mott Haven (2021) in the Bronx
  • Lewis Katz New Renaissance Basketball Academy Charter School in District 7 in the Bronx (2020)
  • University Prep Charter Middle School in District 7 in the Bronx (2019)
  • Wildflower New York Charter School in District 9 in the Bronx (2019)

money matters

In first meeting since November election results, the board of Regents eyes budget for New York schools

PHOTO: Chalkbeat file photo
New York State capitol

New York’s education policymakers, gathering in Albany this week, are expected to decide how much money they will request for school funding from the state legislature.

Members of the state Board of Regents have spent the past several months discussing where state education dollars are most needed next fiscal year. And while their request will help guide lawmakers as they hash out a spending plan by the April 1 deadline, the final dollar amount is out of the hands of the Regents or other state education department officials.

Last budget cycle, the board requested a funding increase of $1.6 billion, which was lower than what they had asked for the year before. State lawmakers subsequently passed a budget that included a $1 billion increase for education — still significantly short of what the Regents had called for.

“So what they ask is really a matter of their public position, having nothing to do with what the ultimate delivery is going to be from the governor and the legislature,” said David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Once again this year, a core priority for the Regents is increasing funding for “foundation aid,” which is a formula that sends extra dollars to high-poverty school districts and contributes about a third of the state education funding for New York City.

Other budget priorities include focusing on high-quality early childhood education, English language learners and the implementation of the state’s plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, which will determine how the state will support and evaluate schools.

The meeting is the first since the results of November’s election, which shifted control of the New York state legislature to Democrats. Given that many newly-elected state senators are political progressives who campaigned on boosting school funding, the Regents could see an opening to press for more money for schools than they have in the past. But how quickly lawmakers can or will deliver on these promises remains to be seen.

In other business, the Regents will look at a proposal Monday to extend the moratorium that excludes state English and math test scores from metrics used to evaluate New York teachers. Chancellor Betty Rosa announced last month that state education officials want to continue speaking with teachers, principals, and others who may wish to weigh in on the issue — which has long been politically charged — before making any final decisions about the state’s teacher evaluation system.

portfolio push

The City Fund’s next steps: These 7 cities are the focus of the biggest new education player

PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Buses head out on their routes at the Denver Public Schools Hilltop Terminal November 10, 2017. (Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post)

A new group that’s raised millions to promote its brand of school reform has begun spending that money in seven cities — and its staff may be planning to try to influence elections, too.

The City Fund has already given grants to organizations and schools in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Newark, Denver, San Antonio, St. Louis, and Nashville, according to one of the group’s founders, Neerav Kingsland. Those grants amount to $15 million of the $189 million the group has raised, he told Chalkbeat.

City Fund staffers have also founded a 501(c)(4) organization called Public School Allies, according to an email obtained by Chalkbeat, which Kingsland confirmed. That setup will allow the group’s members to have more involvement in politics and lobbying, activities limited for traditional nonprofits.

The details — some first reported by The 74 on Sunday — offer the latest insight into the ambitions of The City Fund, which is looking to push cities across the U.S. to expand charter schools and district schools with charter-like autonomy.

The $15 million that’s already been spent has mostly gone to local groups, Kingsland said.

In Denver, the recipient is RootED, a nonprofit that launched about a year ago. RootED’s head Nate Easley said his organization has issued roughly $3 million in grants, partially based on money from The City Fund. Some of that has gone to community groups that organized parents to speak out about the city’s superintendent search. Other money has gone directly to charter schools and district schools that are part of Denver’s innovation zones, which mean they are overseen by a nonprofit organization and that teachers can vote to waive parts of the labor contract.

Easley’s approach is consistent with The City Fund’s favored policies, sometimes called the “portfolio model.” In their ideal scenario, parents would be able to choose among schools that have autonomy to operate as they see fit, including charter schools. In turn, schools are judged by outcomes (which usually means test scores). The ones deemed successful are allowed to grow, and the less-successful ones are closed or dramatically restructured.

A version of that strategy is already in place in Denver and Indianapolis. Those cities have large charter sectors and enrollment systems that include both district and charter schools In others, like San Antonio, Atlanta, and Camden, struggling district schools have been turned over to charter operators.

The City Fund’s Newark grant is more of a surprise. Although the district has implemented many aspects of the portfolio model, and seen charter schools rapidly grow since a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Newark hasn’t been a magnet of national philanthropy recently. That may be because the changes there sparked vehement community protest, and the district recently switched to an elected school board.

Charter advocates in Nashville, meanwhile, have faced setbacks in recent years, losing several bitter school board races a few years ago. A pro-charter group appears to have folded there.

Kingsland said The City Fund has given to The Mind Trust in Indianapolis; RootED in Denver; City Education Partners in San Antonio; the Newark Charter School Fund and the New Jersey Children’s Foundation; The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis; and RedefinED Atlanta. In Nashville, The City Fund gave directly to certain charter schools.

The seven cities The City Fund has given to are unlikely to represent the full scope of the organization’s initial targets. Oakland, for instance, is not included, but The City Fund has received a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for work there. The presentation The City Fund made for potential funders earlier this year says the organization expects to reach 30 to 40 cities in a decade or less.

“We will make additional grants,” Kingsland said in an email. “But we don’t expect to make grants in that many more cities. Right now we are focused on supporting a smaller group of local leaders to see if we can learn more about what works and what doesn’t at the city level.”

Chalkbeat previously reported that the Hastings Fund, Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Dell Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were funding the effort. The Walton Family Foundation and the Ballmer Group are also funders, Kingsland said. (The Gates Foundation and Walton Family Foundation are also funders of Chalkbeat.)

The organization had told prospective donors that it had raised over $200 million. Kingsland said Sunday that $189 million is the correct figure.

As the group expands its influence, it will have to contend with the fact that the portfolio model approach has proven deeply controversial, especially where it has led to the closure of traditional public schools and the expansion of non-unionized alternatives.

It’s gained particular traction in a number of cities, like Newark, Camden, and New Orleans, while they were under state control. In Denver and Indianapolis, cities where the approach has maintained support with elected school boards, supporters faced setbacks in recent elections. Public School Allies may work to address and avoid such political hurdles.

The academic success of the approach remains up for debate. Supporters point to research showing large gains in New Orleans, as well as evidence that in many cities, charter schools outperform district counterparts. Critics note that gains in New Orleans also came with a huge infusion of resources, and that results elsewhere have been more tepid.

Kingsland told The 74 that other approaches to school reform might also have merit — but he’s prepared to stand by his strategy.

“It’s possible that personalized learning, early childhood education, increased public funding, or a deeper focus on integration could be the best way to make public education better. Or perhaps the best way to increase student learning is to address poverty directly by giving poor families more money,” he said.

“While I don’t think our strategy is at odds with any of these approaches, it is possible that our effort is just not the right focus. I don’t think this is true, but it could be.”