back pay

Judge dismisses suit to make co-located charter schools to pay rent

A judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking $100 million in rent from charter schools that have for years occupied space for free in public school buildings.

The lawsuit, filed by parents and advocates nearly two years ago, claimed that the city Department of Education was in violation of state education law by giving city-owned space to privately managed charter schools at no charge. The parents estimated that the annual free ride cost more than $96 million, a total they sought to steer toward hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes after years of budget cuts.

New York State Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe didn’t rule on the fundamental issue of whether charter schools should pay rent. Instead, she ruled that it is not the court’s role to settle disputes over state education law. She said that must first go through the State Education Department, a  precedent that was established in the UFT’s 2010 suit against rising class sizes.

But even as Jaffe ruled against the parent groups, she wrote that the concerns they raised were legitimate.

The charter sector has thrived under the Bloomberg administration, which has awarded free space to more than 60 percent of 159 charter schools. The schools are often placed alongside existing schools in a controversial arrangement known as “co-location.”

Critics have said that the policy introduces stark inequities and breeds unnecessary tension, issues that Jaffe suggested were valid.

“There is no dispute that charter schools, through public funding and private donations, have access to more financial resources than those available to traditional public schools,” Jaffe wrote. Those resources, she continued, are used for improvements for charter schools that are “within the full view of traditional public school students.”

“Parents of public school students thus understandably bristle not only at the disparate treatment of the students, but at how open and notorious it is,” Jaffe wrote.

Despite Jaffe’s parting shot, charter school advocates treated the ruling as a decisive victory that would put the controversy to bed.

“We hope that we can now finally move beyond this debate and have serious discussions with all of New York City’s education stakeholders about how to ensure that the city’s students have access to high quality schools in every neighborhood,” James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Sector, said in a statement.

“This is a fundamental victory that preserves quality education options for our students and their parents,” city spokeswoman Erin Hughes said. “Mandatory rent would place a tremendous financial burden on charter schools and in some cases could force closures.”

Seth Andrew, who runs four Harlem charter schools open in public space, said an unfavorable ruling would have had a profoundly negative impact his students.

“For most of our schools, we would have had to close our doors,” said Andrew, who is superintendent of Democracy Prep Public Schools, which also operates two schools in leased private space. Andrew said per-pupil costs in schools in private space is at least $2,000 more than his co-located schools.

The decision comes as the city prepares for a new mayor who may not be as friendly to the charter school sector as Bloomberg has been. Three Democratic candidates have called for a moratorium on co-locations.

A fourth candidate, front-running Speaker Christine Quinn, has said that she would not charged rent to charter schools.

Andrew said that the timing of the court’s decision could send a message to candidates thinking about charging charter schools rent in the future.

“Mayoral candidates who may want to amend the mayor’s policies on co-location now must do so using both a political and a legal lens,” he said.

New York City Parents Union’s Mona Davids, who represents one of two parent groups listed on the law suit, said that she intends to challenge the ruling in court and through the State Education Department.

“The judge is saying that we didn’t exhaust all our remedies, so we will file the petition with King and we will file an appeal on the judge’s decision,” Davids said.

Judge dismisses $100 million charter school co-location rent lawsuit. by GothamSchools.org

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

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.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.