Charter Next Steps In Gotham

New York City Mayor de Blasio went on Morning Joe today and seemed to be signaling that he gets that he’s beaten on the charter school issue already. As one wag put it, Eva Moskowitz has now successfully co-located her heel in Mr. de Blasio’s backside. His remarks come on the heels of his school chancellor’s change in position last week with regard to one co-location. Maybe he was just trying to dial back the rhetoric but if indeed the budget and colocation issues can be addressed then it’s time to reset this conversation.  A couple of things to keep in mind.

First, colocations are necessary in an urban environment like New York City but it’s not self-evident it’s anything approaching a sustainable policy and they do cause friction that you don’t see in other cities. So a broader conversation about getting equitable facilities aid for charters and ensuring that school suitable space in the city is begin used as efficiently as possible seems fruitful.

De Blasio’s statements about charters and position toward them is/was pretty retrograde (and his remark’s about Eva Moskowtiz surprisingly personal to boot) especially considering the strong performance of the charter sector there, which is well documented across multiple analyses. But, that doesn’t mean there are not real issues here.  As charters grow it it is legitimate to ask how to balance student needs across the entire education sector.  Holding every school accountable for the percentage of special education students it serves is not a sensible policy (and is not how traditional public schools handle special ed) but it is reasonable to look at that percentage across the charter sector.  If no charters want to backflll seats after the start of school or only add students grade-by-grade that does create problems that land in the laps of the traditional public schools. So what’s the obligation of the charter sector there? Many charter advocates respond that these schools are autonomous, so leave them alone. That’s an OK answer when charters are on the margins but not satisfactory as their popularity and market share grows.

Perhaps, then, instead of charging rent based on what resources charter network has, which basically punishes success (no pun intended) it would make sense to start levying taxes for city space based on operational norms. If you don’t want to accept additional students after the start of school, that’s fine, but there will be a cost in terms of the space subsidy. If the sector overall isn’t proportionally serving ELL students or special education students then perhaps that should factor into sector wide facilities subsidies. Conversely, of course, access to facilities where there is space would have to increase as would equitable funding for facilities.

Many in the charter sector hate any ideas like this and these ideas raise their own complications. But, the point is to start having a conversation that’s not punitive toward charters or existing public schools but about how to modernize both sectors to ensure more students are well served. And within the charter sector there are plenty of leaders who think that a conversation about reciprocal obligations for charters is an important one as charter grow.  Frankly, if de Blasio really wanted to cause problems in the charter school community he would put forward reasonable ideas that split the charter coalition rather than pursuing this vindictive campaign against successful schools, which simply unites everyone.

Of course, it’s possible de Blasio, facing plummeting approval ratings and a torrent of criticism over his charter moves, is just posturing until the attention goes away again.  But if he’s not his schools chancellor could start a conversation that helps the charter sector and the traditional public schools grow stronger – and most importantly improves the situation for New York City’s kids.  The opportunity is there Mr. Mayor.

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