after the appeals

City set to begin paying millions for charter-school rent under new law

The city is getting ready to cut its first checks to charter schools that are paying for their own space—an outlay that could stretch to nearly $10 million for this school year, based on charter school enrollment figures.

By the end of May, the Department of Education will have sent money to dozens of expanding charter schools to cover this year’s facility costs, according to a letter sent to school leaders this month. The schools are the first to reap the significant financial benefits of a state law passed just over a year ago that is sure to grow more costly for the city in the coming years.

“It’s huge,” said Great Oaks Charter School founder Michael Duffy, who became the first school leader to test the nascent law’s limits this summer. Duffy estimates his Lower Manhattan school stands to receive about $300,000 to cover rent for about 109 students in seventh grade this year.

Great Oaks is one of 46 city charter schools in private space that added grades, according to the New York City Charter School Center, and more than 3,600 students from those schools were enrolled in new grades. Most of those schools successfully appealed to the State Education Department for rental assistance over the last several months.

Under the law, eligible schools can receive up to 20 percent of their total school funding for those students — which this year rounds to $2,755 per student. (The actual amount paid to each school could be less, depending on how much the school pays in rent. The department is reviewing leases to calculate what to pay each school.)

Not all eligible schools have applied for the funding, a department spokesman said, though the charter center said most are expected to have applied or to apply in the future. If they do, the city would be on the hook for as much as $10 million for this school year, although that sum will likely be lower because some school leaders said they paid less than $2,755 per student in rent.

The spokesman said that a precise tally of costs would not be available until city reviews all of the appeals.

But the city’s costs are certain to continue to add up, as more schools open and enrollment increases at expanding schools. Next school year, the charter center’s enrollment projections would put the maximum tab just for expanding schools at $17.8 million.

One of those new schools, South Bronx Early College Academy Charter School, will be due more than $300,000 for 110 six graders next year, according to the founding principal.

“It’s a heck of a gift,” said the founder, Ric Campbell.

The city is obligated to spend $40 million to cover rent costs of eligible charter schools if they are not given space inside of a city-owned building, according to the law. Once the bills hit the $40 million ceiling, costs will be split with the state.

The law was passed in April 2014 as a rebuke to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who during his early months in office signaled that he would end the city’s practice of giving charter schools space inside of city-owned buildings for free. Charter schools do not automatically receive any funding for space, and de Blasio’s predecessor Michael Bloomberg used the controversial space-sharing policy to help grow the city’s charter sector.

“The challenge since the dawn of the charter school sector in New York City has been facilities,” said Duffy, who headed the education department’s charter school office from 2007 to 2010. The new facilities funding law, he added, “is the next chapter.”

Many of the schools set to receive the funding didn’t expect the financial boost when the law was passed last April. Lawmakers and members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s own staff indicated then that only brand-new schools would be covered.

But a conference call last May between charter school leaders and New York City Charter School CEO James Merriman kicked off what would become a broader campaign. Merriman, a lawyer, said his reading of the law suggested that existing schools could also take advantage of the funding as long as they were adding grades.

Duffy was the first leader of an existing school to request space from the city and, once denied, appealed to then-State Education Commissioner John King. On his last day in office, King upheld Great Oaks’ appeal, a decision that opened the floodgates for other schools to submit their own requests.

Not all the private rent bills will cost as much as the $300,000 that Duffy is expecting for Great Oaks, which next year will move into a school building that will be vacant after the charter school there now closes at the end of the school year.

For instance, there are just 13 students in 11th grade this year at John W. Lavelle Preparatory, according to President Ken Byalin. The most the school could receive for this year is about $36,000, but Byalin said it would be lower because its costs to operate inside corporate offices come out to less than $2,755 per student.

Byalin said that since the school’s rent is already paid for the year, the money might go toward providing summer school classes, more Saturday school days, or maybe to fund a trip for the school’s inaugural senior class next year.

Not all charter schools in private space are eligible for city money. Twenty-three are done adding grades, and are therefore ineligible, a funding discrepancy that has prompted a lawsuit from charter school parents and advocates.

And not all of the expanding schools in private space will receive it. New Dawn Charter High School in Brooklyn is a transfer school for students who had previously left other high schools and are behind in their academic credits. But because students enter the school at different ages and different levels of high school completion, the school doesn’t technically have any grades. So even though it is adding students, it is not technically “adding grades,” which disqualified the school, according to its principal.

“We argued that the wording in the law was not meant to be a barrier to a new school like us,” New Dawn principal Sara Asmussen said of her school’s rejected appeal. “But it’s fine. The law’s the law. That’s what it says.”

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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