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These 5 New York City charter networks are getting $23M from the feds to expand

Ascend charter school network CEO Steve Wilson observes students in a fourth-grade English class in 2016.
Ascend charter school network CEO Steve Wilson observes students in a fourth-grade English class in 2016.
Stephanie Snyder/Chalkbeat

New York City schools are getting almost half of the money that the U.S. Education Department is handing out this year to help charter schools grow.

Five of the 17 charter operators receiving this year’s “Replication and Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools” grants are based in New York City, and they will take home more than $23 million over the next five years. All together, the 17 operators were awarded $52.4 million.

The five New York City operators are Ascend Learning, East Harlem Tutorial Program, Family Life Academy Charter Schools, Great Oaks Foundation, and Success Academy Charter Schools.

Ascend Learning ($9,484,885) currently operates 10 schools in Brooklyn. In its grant application, the network said it wants to double its student enrollment to 8,000 by 2021. The network got high marks for improving students’ test scores, but one reviewer noted that the schools serve fewer students with disabilities and English language learners than other local schools. “This is a concern because over time the applicant does not seem to have been able to remedy this situation,” the reviewer wrote. One change the network has made over time: shedding the “no-excuses” approach to discipline, which its CEO said was producing “too many unhappy children.”

East Harlem Tutorial Program ($2,781,280) currently operates two schools and plans to add a high school for students who complete the middle school programs. Its application notes that teachers are trained through a residency program run at Hunter College which is undergoing an independent evaluation. (Research is mixed on whether the training programs, which are increasingly popular, yield better teachers, especially given their high cost.)

Family Life Academy Charter School ($900,000): The grantee with the smallest award, this network calls itself an “emerging … ‘community grown’ charter school network” in its application, using language that reflects a deep divide within New York City’s charter sector between major networks and ones with a more mom-and-pop origin story. It is planning to add a middle school for its three Bronx elementary schools to feed into.

Great Oaks Foundation ($3,834,000) has one school in New York City and others in Newark; Wilmington, Delaware; and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Its founder and president once ran the city’s charter schools office under then-Chancellor Joel Klein, a charter advocate. The network has hired hundreds of tutors to give each student two hours of extra help every day, and its application outlines a plan to create a teacher residency program and improve summer teacher training. The application reviewers wrote that they were impressed by students’ test scores but questioned why the network had offered up only one year of results.

Success Academy ($6,130,200): The winner of the largest award is also New York City’s largest charter network, with 41 schools serving 14,000 students and a lightning rod CEO, Eva Moskowitz, whose expansion ambitions are no secret. The network wants to use the federal funds to add grades to 20 of its existing schools. (Other expansion plans bring the network’s projected number of schools to 77 in 2021, with more than 31,000 students, according to its grant application.) Its unclear how much the network needs the federal government’s support: Its grant application says it expected to net $43.5 million last year “from foundations, individuals, and fundraising events.”

Nationwide, the schools are getting a portion of their grants this year; future funds are dependent on Congress agreeing to pay out the pledged amount in each year’s education budget. The education department also awarded $145 million to nine states — New York was not included — that pledged to help charter schools open.

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