Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a $50 million initiative to expand summer programming among New York City charter schools on Monday, an effort he said was meant to close learning gaps widened by the pandemic.
The initiative, called “Summer Boost,” will allow any of the city’s charter schools to apply for grant funding to bolster their existing summer programs or launch new ones. The privately funded effort is slated to reach 25,000 students in grades K-8, about 18% of those currently enrolled in city charter schools.
“What we’re talking about today is the educational equivalent of long COVID,” Bloomberg said, referring to pandemic disruptions to student learning. “The good news is we know how to treat it: extra help and intensive instruction.”
Officials framed the new program as similar to “Summer Rising,” the city’s existing summer school initiative that combines morning academic support with enrichment activities in the afternoons, including sports and field trips. Adams previously announced that the city is working to expand that program from 98,000 students last year to 110,000 elementary and middle school students this summer, alongside additional summer jobs slots for older students.
The city’s Summer Rising program is already open to all students, including those attending private or charter schools, but Bloomberg indicated some charter school leaders want to run their own programs. The Bloomberg-funded Summer Boost program will also provide a five-week reading and math curriculum as well as teacher training for schools that want to use it.
Schools that apply for the Summer Boost funding are expected to tailor their programs to serve students who are furthest behind. They must also promise to ensure students attend at least 80% of the program and are asked to “commit to measuring outcomes.” Bloomberg officials said they intend to offer funding to nearly every school that applies for it at a rate of about $2,000 per student.
Monday’s announcement was notable for its emphasis on learning loss, an issue Mayor Eric Adams has emphasized since taking office but has yet to reveal a detailed policy agenda to address. The joint press conference between Adams and Bloomberg also signals a changing relationship between City Hall and the city’s charter schools.
Adams’ immediate predecessor, Bill de Blasio, was largely critical of the charter sector, which educates about 14% of the city’s public school students. De Blasio also railed against Bloomberg’s education agenda and worked to unravel it.
Adams has been much warmer to Bloomberg and promised a friendlier approach to the publicly funded yet privately managed charter schools, a point he underscored on Monday. “I am not going to be caught up in the conversation of separating children based on the names of the schools they are in,” he said. “They are all of our children.”
Still, no charter leaders spoke Monday at the mayors’ announcement, and it was not immediately clear whether the city’s largest charter networks planned to take part in the new program.
Bloomberg has long been a booster of charter schools and worked to expand the sector’s footprint during his time as mayor. In December, he announced plans to spend $750 million to create 150,000 new charter seats across a slew of metro areas including New York. (No new charter schools are currently allowed to open in New York City because of a cap set by the state legislature.)
Asked whether the funding for summer programs is part of that $750 million effort, Bloomberg said it was not and declined to elaborate further on his plans for that money.
Quickly spinning up summer school programs could be a challenge for some charter schools, with summer fast approaching and as many educators are exhausted from three consecutive school years of disrupted teaching. Bloomberg officials acknowledged some of those concerns in an FAQ posted online that encourages schools to begin recruiting even before they’ve been formally approved for funding. It also says charter schools may join up to offer programs to help address staffing issues.
Stacey Gauthier, executive director of The Renaissance Charter Schools in Queens, said the two schools she oversees were already planning to run a combined summer program geared toward students who need the most help catching up.
But she said additional funding through Summer Boost could allow her to extend the program for younger grades beyond the planned half-day to include more science and art.
“It’ll definitely let us build it out,” Gauthier said, adding that she is interested in taking advantage of the curriculum offered through Summer Boost. “Any support to offset the cost would be helpful.”
Bloomberg Philanthropies will provide about two thirds of the funding for the $50 million summer grant program, with the rest provided by a slew of private groups. The program is not expected to continue after this summer.
“Private sector and philanthropic groups have a duty, I think, to step in,” Bloomberg said. “This really is an all hands on deck moment.”
Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.