New York

Nearly 70 city charter schools covered by suit seeking facility funds

Hyde Leadership Charter School in the Bronx, one of nearly 70 schools in private space that could be impacted by a new statewide charter school funding lawsuit.

A new school funding lawsuit filed upstate could be a boon for nearly 70 charter schools in the five boroughs.

The lawsuit, filed Monday by four families from Buffalo and one family from Rochester, claims that the state shortchanges students in charter schools by not providing money for space. And while the complaint focuses on funding disparities in upstate cities, their claims would also apply to dozens of New York City charter schools that still aren’t guaranteed facilities funding.

The legal attack represents the latest front in a lengthy battle over charter school facilities funding, which has its roots in the 1998 law that first allowed charter schools to open in New York. Charter schools do receive some state funding, but they weren’t given access to the state’s building aid program, which subsidizes district school construction projects. When schools opened in private facilities, they had to set aside a chunk of their operating budget—meant for teachers and school supplies—toward expenses like rent, security, maintenance, and renovations.

In New York City, those costs can add up. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School Executive Director Daniel Rubenstein told Chalkbeat earlier this year that he had to set aside a little less than 20 percent of his $13 million budget to replace fire alarms, upgrade bathrooms and install a new science lab in addition to paying rent and other facilities expenses.

Most of the nearly 200 charter schools that opened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg received free space in city-owned buildings. But 68 charter schools, serving 25,000 students, operate in private buildings and spend, according to one tally, an extra $2,300 for every student on facilities.

This year’s state budget deal included a law that guarantees access to facilities for new and expanding charter schools in New York City. The deal was hailed as a big win for charter schools, but it did little for schools already open in private space. (More recently, some city charter schools, including the one Rubenstein runs, have said the law does apply to them and have applied for space.)

The law also did not address more than 50 charter schools outside of the city that operate in private space, where facilities costs are lower but still a heavy burden. Charter schools in western and central New York, for instance, spend up to $1,600 on facilities for every student, according to a report by the Northeast Charter School Network, an advocacy group that is part of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also cites a study of funding disparities between charter schools and district schools that showed big gaps for charters in upstates cities. In Buffalo, for instance, charters receive $9,811 less for its students on average than district schools, a gap of more than 40 percent, the lawsuit states.

By filing a lawsuit, the parents and the charter advocacy group are following a strategy increasingly being employed by groups seeking to challenge state laws supported by teachers unions, like teacher job protection laws.

“We were really hopeful last session that they’d put a fix in to help charters statewide,” said Andrea Rogers, policy director of NECSN, referring to the lobbying campaign waged around access to facilities. “It did do a lot to protect the charter movement in New York City, but not all schools got the relief. So we need to take another approach.”

But increasing funds to charter schools could mean diverting money from district schools that are still struggling to recover from years of budget cuts. Opponents say that is unnecessary because charter schools can also tap private donors for a wide range of support.

Alliance for Quality Education advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari, an ally of teachers unions and Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that lawmakers should focus first on fulfilling the terms of a 2006 lawsuit settlement that was supposed to provide more funds for schools in poor districts.

“We are $5.9 billion behind on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity commitment, and this proposal will only divert more money away from public schools, at the expense of our children,” Ansari said.

 

union power

Charter teachers won big in nation’s first strike. What now?

PHOTO: Yana Kunichoff / Chalkbeat
Teachers from Acero charter schools in Chicago protest stalled negotiations Oct. 24, 2018, as they readied to vote on authorizing a strike.

Some 500 unionized teachers joined in the nation’s first charter strike last week, and succeeded in negotiating wage increases, smaller class sizes and a shorter school day. Their gains could foreshadow next year’s citywide contract negotiations — between the Chicago Teachers Union, with its contract expiring in June, and Chicago Public Schools.

“The issue of class size is going to be huge,” said Chris Geovanis, the union’s director of communications. “It is a critically important issue in every school.”

Unlike their counterparts in charters, though, teachers who work at district-run schools can’t technically go on strike to push through a cap on the number of students per class. That’s because the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act defines what issues non-charter public school teachers can bargain over, and what issues can lead to a strike.

An impasse on issues of compensation or those related to working conditions, such as length of the school day or teacher evaluations, could precipitate a strike. But disagreements over class sizes or school closures, among other issues, cannot be the basis for a strike.

The number of students per class has long been a point of contention among both district and charter school teachers.

Educators at Acero had hopes of pushing the network to limit class sizes to 24-28 students, depending on the grade. However, as Acero teachers capped their fourth day on the picket line, they reached an agreement with the charter operator on a cap of 30 students — down from the current cap of 32 students.

Andy Crooks, a special education apprentice, also known as a teacher’s aide, at Acero’s Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz school and a member of the teachers bargaining team, said that even having two fewer students in a classroom would make a huge difference.

“You really do get a lot more time with your students,” Crooks said. “And if you are thinking about kindergarten in particular, two less 5-year-olds really can help set the tone of the classroom.”

In district-run schools, classes are capped at 28 students in kindergarten through third grade, and at 31 students in fourth through sixth grade. But a survey by the advocacy group Parents 4 Teachers, which supports educators taking on inequality, found that during the 2017-2018 school year, 21 percent of K-8 classrooms had more students than district guidelines allowed. In 18 elementary school classrooms, there were 40 or more students.

The issue came up at last week’s Board of Education meeting, at which Ivette Hernandez, a parent of a first-grader at Virgil Grissom Elementary School in the city’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said her son’s classes have had more than 30 students in them. When the children are so young and active — and when they come into classrooms at so many different skill levels — “the teachers can’t handle 30 kids in one class,” she told the board.

Alderman Sue Garza, a former counselor, accompanied Hernandez. She also spoke before the board about classroom overcrowding — worrying aloud that, in some grades at one school in particular, the number of students exceeded the building’s fire codes. (Board chair Frank Clark said a district team would visit the school to ensure compliance fire safety policies.)

While the Chicago Teachers Union aren’t technically allowed to strike over class sizes, the union does have a history of pushing the envelope when it comes to bargaining.

Back in 2012, when the Chicago Teachers Union last went on strike, they ended up being able to secure the first limit on class sizes in 20 years because the district permitted the union to bargain over class size.

They also led a bargaining campaign that included discussion over racial disparities in Chicago education and school closures, arguing that these trends impacted the working conditions of teachers.

“Even if you can’t force an employer to bargain over an issue, you can push them to bargain over the impact of an issue,” Bob Bruno, a labor professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, explained.

The Chicago Teachers Union also emerged from its 2012 negotiations with guarantees of additional “wraparound services,” such as access to onsite social workers and school counselors.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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