11 charter schools get permission to open in New York, bringing the city closer to the legal limit

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.

Nearly a dozen new charter schools have gotten the green light to open in New York in the next three years, bringing the city closer to a looming limit on charters that has advocates fretting.

The SUNY Charter Schools Institute, one of two entities able to approve new charter schools for the state, signed off on 11 applications during a meeting in Albany Thursday. All of the schools aim to open in the Bronx or Brooklyn, and while several would be part of existing school networks, others would be the first for their operators.

The schools include a replica of Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, the racially and economically diverse school that also won approval this week to expand to Connecticut; a Montessori school that’s part of a nonprofit working to bring that model to low-income neighborhoods; and a basketball-themed school where students will not only play the sport but study it as well.

The approvals come as a longstanding debate has reignited over how many of the publicly funded but privately managed schools should be allowed to operate. Nodding to concerns that rapid growth could hurt local districts and schools, lawmakers have always capped the number of charter schools permitted in the city and the state, and today’s approvals leave just 17 slots that could go toward city schools.

Charter advocates say the cap will deter talented educators from seeking to work with New York City children. As the number of available charters dwindles, they’ve been calling more attention to the issue, including last week after state test scores showed that city charter school students are outperforming their peers on the exams.

They pressed their case again today. “SUNY’s approvals are good news for New York City families who will directly benefit from 11 new high-quality schools,” New York City Charter School Center CEO James Merriman said in a statement. “With more approvals on the horizon it is more important than ever that the legislature lift the unnecessary cap on charter schools in New York City.”

Whether the issue has any chance of taking hold in Albany is unclear. Charter advocates lost crucial allies in the legislature last month when progressive Democrats unseated several lawmakers who had sided with Republicans on some issues, including charter schools. Many charter school critics say they are now hopeful that rather than loosening or even maintaining controls on the schools, lawmakers will tighten the reins. And after initially signaling an openness to charter schools, city Chancellor Richard Carranza recently joined Mayor Bill de Blasio in expressing firm opposition to lifting the cap.

As the cap quickly becomes a political flashpoint, charter operators continue to propose new schools. Counting applications currently under consideration by SUNY and the State Education Department, the state’s other charter authorizer, the cap could be exhausted as soon as the end of 2018, according to the charter center.

Meanwhile the federal education department this week revealed that it is giving up to $78 million to New York to support the hundreds of charter schools that are already in operation across the state.

Here are the newly authorized schools and where and when they aim to open:

  • Brilla Caritas Charter School and Brilla Pax Charter School in District 7 in the Bronx (2020)
  • Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in District 15 in Brooklyn (2019)
  • Capital Preparatory Bronx Charter School in District 12 in the Bronx (2019)
  • Central Brooklyn Ascend Charter Schools 4 & 5 in Brooklyn (2019)
  • DREAM Charter Schools Hunts Point (2019) & Mott Haven (2021) in the Bronx
  • Lewis Katz New Renaissance Basketball Academy Charter School in District 7 in the Bronx (2020)
  • University Prep Charter Middle School in District 7 in the Bronx (2019)
  • Wildflower New York Charter School in District 9 in the Bronx (2019)

Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.

Changing fortune

Late votes deliver a narrow win for Jeffco school bond measure

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Voters in Jefferson County narrowly approved a $567 million bond request that will allow the school district to improve its buildings.

Jeffco Measure 5B, the bond request, initially appeared to have failed, even as voters supported Measure 5A, a $33 million mill levy override, a type of local property tax increase, by a comfortable margin. But as late votes continued to be counted between Election Day and today, the gap narrowed — and then the tally flipped.

With all ballots counted — including overseas and military ballots and ballots from voters who had to resolve signature problems — the bond measure had 50.3 percent of the vote and a comfortable 1,500 vote margin.

In 2016, Jeffco voters turned down both a mill levy override and a bond request. Current Superintendent Jason Glass, who was hired after the ballot failure, made efforts in the last year to engage community members who don’t have children in the district on the importance of school funding. This year’s bond request was even larger than the $535 million ask that voters rejected two years ago.

“We are incredibly thankful to our voters and the entire Jeffco community for supporting our schools,” Glass said in a statement. “The 5A and 5B funding will dramatically impact the learning environment for all of our students. Starting this year, we will be able to better serve our students, who in turn will better serve our communities and the world.”

The money will be used to add new classrooms and equip them, improve security at school buildings, and add career and technical education facilities.