unchartered territory

In New York City, a new siting process paves the way for more charter schools

The state budget bill’s expected passage includes several dramatic education policy shifts for the city, but perhaps none have been more fiercely debated than new provisions for providing new city charter schools with free or subsidized space.

Now that the dust has settled, the process that those charter schools will go through to get access to that space is under new scrutiny, as lawmakers and advocacy groups work to make sense of the new provisions.

The budget agreement doesn’t dig into the city’s mayoral control law, but it does dictate, quite specifically, what Mayor Bill de Blasio can and can’t do when apportioning public school space.

Here’s what we know about how the process will work. From now on, New York City is required to provide new charter schools with “access to facilities,” which is enshrined in law as either a free co-location plan or a rent subsidy for private space. After 2016, the state will cover some of the private costs.

Under the provision, eligible schools will need to submit a “written request” for public space, which state officials said could be done as part of their charter application. It is then up to the city to respond with an offer of city-owned space or pay a school extra to find its own facility.

But if de Blasio chooses the co-location route, he will be limited in where he can place the schools. The provision states that a school must get space in the district that its charter was approved for, meaning de Blasio could have trouble putting a school approved for the South Bronx in another high-needs area, such as East New York or Brownsville.

The law’s provision makes it clear that the plans also must follow the same rules governing its current co-location process.

For some lawmakers, the outlines weren’t enough of an explanation for how the space-allocation process—a fraught topic in New York City—will play out.

“No one can actually explain how this will actually work,” Manhattan Senator Liz Krueger said on the Senate floor while professing her opposition to the charter school provisions.

Harlem Assembly member Keith Wright, who sponsored a bill to curtail mayoral control because he disagreed with the Bloomberg administration’s handling of its space-sharing authority, said he was more supportive of the deal.

“I don’t know if I’m optimistic,” said Wright, whose district encompasses many of the charter school co-locations that have stoked the most controversy. “I’ll say I’m hopeful that we can at least stop the tension.”

Nevertheless, the law anticipates tension between the city and future charter schools and lays out a process for settling disputes over assigned space. Charter schools have 30 days after receiving the city’s offer to appeal, which can be done with a court lawsuit, a direct appeal to the state education commissioner, or through an independent arbitrator.

The teachers union and parents have often taken such legal action against the city in the past as a way to challenge Bloomberg’s charter school co-locations. Some were initially successful, but few, if any, resulted in reversing any co-locations purely through litigation.

It’s not clear how much these provisions will cost the city, state officials said. But de Blasio won’t have to pay much next year, when most of the new charter schools are already sited for public school space. And the three schools whose co-location plans were nixed by de Blasio in February are likely to get their space back as a result of the state legislation.

The city will incur more significant costs in the 2015-2016 school year and in subsequent years. In addition to the 24 schools approved to open next year and in 2015, the city is permitted to open an additional 52 schools under the state’s charter cap. Most of those schools have already been approved for public space and the de Blasio administration has said the 2015 plans are pending.

Under the new provisions, the city would be allowed to pay whichever is cheaper: the 20 percent extra in per pupil money, or the cost of rent that a private landlord is charging. 

One example of a charter school planning to open in 2015 is Charter High School for Law and Social Justice, which is seeking space in the South Bronx. If it opened in private space, they could be eligible, unless rent is cheaper, for roughly $333,000 from the city. The figure is based on additional per-pupil funding for 2015-2016, $2,775, and the 120 students who are projected to attend the school in its first year.


Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the future site plans for the Charter High School for Law and Social Justice. 

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Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.