Schools Chancellor David Banks joined the board of the New York City Charter School Center, an organization that advocates on behalf of the sector, officials announced Wednesday.
Banks and Mayor Eric Adams have signaled greater support for charter schools compared with their immediate predecessors, and some observers were quick to criticize Banks’ decision to join the board.
But the move is hardly unusual: Nearly every city schools chancellor over the last two decades has served on the charter center’s board regardless of their views of the privately managed but publicly funded schools.
James Merriman, the center’s CEO, said the city’s schools chief is invited to sit on the board to promote collaboration and open lines of communication between traditional district schools and charters. “It was designed to foster and enforce dialogue,” he said.
Past chancellors have had varying degrees of interest in the board. Carmen Fariña, who served under Mayor Bill de Blasio, was an active participant, often attending the board’s quarterly meetings, even as she publicly criticized the sector, Merriman said.
“She offered her candid view from her seat: what she was seeing, what she agreed with and what she disagreed with,” he said.
Richard Carranza, de Blasio’s second chancellor, was also a member of the board but did not typically attend meetings, Merriman said. Due to Meisha Porter’s shorter tenure, she did not serve on the board. De Blasio, who preceded Adams for two terms, was often quick to criticize the sector, arguing that their test scores are mostly the result of endless preparation and that charters often don’t serve the neediest students (research paints a more complicated picture).
The current administration has taken a decidedly warmer tone on charter schools so far, but has taken few concrete actions to advance the sector, which educates about 14% of the city’s public school students. Banks and Adams stood beside former Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he announced a $50 million infusion for summer school programming at charters last month, but that was largely symbolic, as the initiative does not involve public money.
Bloomberg previously announced a separate $750 million initiative to boost the charter sector in 20 cities, an effort he partially credits to Adams’ election. “One of those areas will be New York City, where the election of a new mayor who is supportive of charter schools, Eric Adams, helped convince us that the time was right,” Bloomberg wrote. (Bloomberg Philanthropies is a Chalkbeat benefactor.)
Still, Adams and Banks have not made a significant public push to increase the number of charter schools that can open, which is currently constrained by a cap enacted by the state legislature. During his campaign, Adams signaled that he is not in favor of raising the cap, although he has said he’s open to reissuing charters from those that have been closed. His campaign received support from a political action committee backed by a charter sector leader.
When asked at a March hearing in Albany whether he supports altering the state’s charter school law, Banks said, “that’s not a priority that I am bringing,” but noted he supports “any school that is promoting excellence.”
In a statement about joining the charter center’s board, Banks indicated he is interested in “Identifying and showcasing the amazing things that are happening in all our schools.”
He added: “I am looking forward to working with the Board to strengthen how we identify, share, and scale best practices being incubated in both district and charter schools.”
Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.