clashes in the space wars

Charter leaders continue to battle de Blasio over space in public school buildings

Parents and staff members from P.S. 277 and Academic Leadership Charter School at a January public hearing about a co-location plan.

A group of charter school leaders is trying to pour cold water on the idea that Mayor Bill de Blasio has warmed to charter schools.

Days after de Blasio gave an education speech that drew praise from some charter school leaders, others sharply criticized the mayor Tuesday charging that he has not done enough to support their growth. At the heart of their criticism is an ongoing battle for limited space inside of city-owned school buildings, which the de Blasio administration has been reluctant to offer to charter schools.

In an open letter to de Blasio, the leaders accuse the de Blasio administration of “hurting some of the city’s most vulnerable students” by denying their requests for space in public-school buildings.

The letter was circulated by the advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, which is organizing a rally scheduled for Sept. 30 — the latest in a series of large-scale events designed to demonstrate the political power of the charter sector. It was signed by Eva Moskowitz, the leader of the Success Academy network of charter schools and a regular critic of  Mayor de Blasio’s, and by five other leaders who have been less apt to criticize the mayor publicly in recent months.

The schools’ requests for space have come in the wake of legislation, passed in 2014, that dramatically altered how charter schools in New York City found space.

Under former Mayor Bloomberg, some charter schools were granted space in public school buildings, and others were forced to use their budgets to pay for private space. The new law, sparked by a fight between Moskowitz and the city early in de Blasio’s term, offers additional perks to charter schools. Now, a new or expanding school can request city space, and if city officials say suitable space is not available, an appeals process allows charter schools to receive city funding to rent space elsewhere.

The administration has offered school space to a small number of charter schools, but de Blasio has leaned more heavily on the appeal process, denying requests from 45 charter schools, according to the New York Post. The result: All but one school will receive city funds to operate in private space, which the city estimates will cost more than $30 million by the end of this school year.

The leaders, who run the Achievement First, KIPP, Public Preparatory, and Uncommon Schools networks, as well as the founder of Coney Island Prep, called the city’s spending on private space “downright shameful” given that space remains available inside many public school buildings. Many charter networks favor space inside public buildings, in part because it saves money on utilities and other miscellaneous costs. Such co-locations, pioneered by the Bloomberg administration, helped the city’s charter sector to grow quickly over the last decade.

It is a striking contrast from the friendly tone that some of those leaders have sought to strike in other ways. Uncommon Schools has provided professional development to district teachers in Brownsville, KIPP founder Dave Levin served on a city-appointed space-sharing working group, and just last month Public Prep CEO Ian Rowe hosted a visit from Chancellor Carmen Fariña to one of his co-located schools on its first day.

But space-sharing arrangements can become tense as schools with different schedules, philosophies, and grade levels divide scarce resources like time in the cafeteria and gym. The Panel for Educational Policy rejected one such co-location request at the end of last school year, citing concerns about the arrangement. De Blasio vowed to listen more closely to concerned school communities while campaigning for mayor.

David Bloomfield, a professor of education leadership at the CUNY Graduate Center and Brooklyn College, said he sees reasons for charter schools to prefer private space, primarily that they don’t have to share common facilities. The mayor is being unfairly criticized, he said, for following procedures outlined in a law that charter school advocates favored.

“This is a law that was written to their specifications, certainly not de Blasio’s,” Bloomfield said. “It seems to be a situation where he can do no right.”

Meanwhile, not all charter school leaders agree that operating in public school buildings is necessary — or even preferable. Steve Zimmerman, the founder of two charter schools in Queens and co-director of the Coalition for Community Charter Schools, a group that represents many unaffiliated charter schools, said that public schools built decades ago often have outdated infrastructure that can be hard to renovate.

Plus, Zimmerman added, there’s only so much space available in public buildings.

“We’re going to be bumping up against reality soon,” he said.

Department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement that the city was simply complying with state law.

“We have a clear process in place and have been and continue to comply with the State law to provide space or rental assistance for eligible charter schools,” Kaye said in a statement.

Sticker shock

In Illinois, child care costs eclipse rent, making it one of least affordable states  

The average annual cost of child care now outpaces what families spend on a year of rent in Illinois, according to a new report that examines child care costs nationwide.

Illinois is one of the 15 least affordable states in the country, according to the report from the Virginia-based nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. The nonprofit examined costs across the United States and adjusted them for median income and cost of living.

“Families are seeing that child care is a significant portion of the bill they have to pay,” rivaling the cost of college tuition, rent, and even sometimes mortgage payments in some areas of the country, said Dionne Dobbins, senior director of research at Child Care Aware.  

The average annual cost of center-based care for an infant in Illinois has reached $13,474 — which is a staggering 52 percent of the median income of a single-parent family in the state and nearly 15 percent of the state’s median married couple’s income.

That figure put it 13th among the least affordable states, which were ranked by the percentage of a single-parent family’s income spent on child care. Massachusetts topped out at nearly 65 percent of a single-parent family’s median income for center-based infant care.

In Illinois, care for toddlers and older children before and after school also consumed a greater percentage of a family’s income compared with other states. Illinois ranked 14th for toddler care as a percentage of median income, with an average cost of $11,982 for full-time toddler care at a center.

The state was among least affordable for the cost of three months of summer care.


Illinois offers a child care subsidy intended to offset the costs of care for low-income working families, but that program has been rocked by shifting eligibility requirements and compliance issues. Participation in the program has dropped by a third since 2015, when Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration changed eligibility requirements.

Dobbins said that, across the United States, child care subsidy programs are under pressure as states tighten compliance and lower reimbursement rates. In some states like Illinois, rising minimum wages have rendered some families ineligible for subsidies or staring down co-pays that they can’t afford.

Dobbins said that nationally, only one in six children eligible for subsidized child care actually ends up using it.


words of advice

Here’s advice from a social worker on how schools can support transgender students right now

PHOTO: Getty Images
A flag for transgender and gender noncomforming people is held up at a rally for LGBTQ rights at Washington Square Park.

Soon after news broke that the Trump administration could further roll back civil rights protections for transgender students, one New York City teacher sent an email blast to her fellow educators.

She was searching for materials to use in biology class that reflect people of different gender identities, but couldn’t find anything.

Many city educators may similarly grapple with how to support transgender students after it was reported that the Trump administration is considering whether to narrowly define gender based on a person’s biology at birth — a move that could have implications for how sex discrimination complaints in schools are handled under federal Title IX.

Olin Winn-Ritzenberg — a social worker at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center — has some tips for navigating the questions and emotions this latest proposal might surface. He runs a support group for transgender teens and their peers who want to be allies, and says the most important advice is to just be willing to talk and listen.

“I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis,” he said. “By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support.”

Here’s what he had to say about recognizing transgender students, the protections that New York City and state offer, and some mistakes to avoid.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What are your tips for how to explain the news to students and young people?

If it’s news like this, that’s hard to maybe pin down what it exactly means (this was a memo, and does it have teeth? What does it mean?) I would look to them for the feeling of it. That’s what’s really important and a lot of what’s going on is just fear mongering, and a denial of trans existence. And that is something our young people will be able to speak to, to no end, and that they’re not strangers to — especially under this administration.

I would want to help ground things and offer some reassurance that a memo doesn’t have teeth and that we can look to our local New York City and state protections — that we’re lucky to live in a place that has such strong protections, especially for students.

What kinds of protections should New York City students expect to have in schools?

A student in New York City could expect to use the facilities that align with their identity, and could expect to possibly see all-gender facilities in their schools — as there are more and more of those being converted. They can expect to be able to file or register a complaint of discrimination against other students or even staff, and can expect to have an LGBT liaison within the Department of Education. They can expect to have their name and pronoun respected and utilized, and come up with a plan with a staff member around, if they’re transitioning socially or in any form at school, how they would like to be supported and how that looks in each unique situation.

It doesn’t always happen. But the fact that we do have it in policy means that there’s a means to pursuing it and that the institution is on the side of the trans or gender non-conforming student and would help to rectify any situation that’s feeling unsafe or unsupportive.

How can teachers and adults show support for their transgender students right now?

I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that you want to wait until somebody is in crisis. It shouldn’t be necessarily on any student to bring it up. By bringing it up ourselves, we’re modeling support. Even though this is a memo and we’re all waiting to see what they’re going to try to do with it, we know the intentions behind it…

I think we can speak directly to that and not make the debate about, ‘Is there or isn’t there a trans experience?’ That’s maybe one of the most powerful things. Yes, we exist. And if you’re an ally: ‘I’m a witness. You exist. You’re valid and as valid as anybody else.’

What would that validation look like in a school setting, say, if you’re a math teacher?

I think that making things visible is powerful. So if there’s a public bulletin board in a hallway and it says, ‘We stand with our trans staff and students,’ and then people have an opportunity to sign it.

I really think it can be an individualized response by a school depending on that school’s culture and if there is leadership by students, say, ‘We would like to be vocal and explicit in our support. You come up with the idea.’ Or, not to put it on them but say, ‘We’d love to be guided or get input from you on how to do that,’ so it is, wherever possible youth and trans-led.

Say, ‘What do you need and what can we provide?’

What should teachers and adults avoid saying or doing at a time like this?

I think a common, misguided mistake — that’s not necessarily hateful, but is really harmful nonetheless — is propping up a debate that’s going to hinge on ‘Do trans people exist?’ Or, ‘Defend or argue against sex being a binary, scientific, biological basis to view narrowly.’  

If a teacher wanted to engage with this but the assignment were more like, ‘What are your thoughts,’ there is so much education that needs to be done first — and that can put a person’s very identity and being up for debate in a classroom setting.

Another really bad thing would be just to ignore it because people are maybe scared of going there or don’t know what to do.