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NEW YORK CHARTER SCHOOLS FORCED TO REDIRECT MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AWAY FROM CLASSROOMS TO PAY FOR FACILITIES, NEW STUDY FINDS
First-Ever Statewide Survey of Charter Schools Finds Charters Forced to Spend Up to 17% of Operating Costs on Facilities
Advocates Call for Facilities Financing and Expanded Access to Space Inside Public Buildings
June 13, 2013 (New York, NY) – An average-sized New York charter school with 254 students in private space is diverting more than $515,000 each year out of the classroom to pay for facilities that traditional public schools get for free, according to a first-ever study released today about charter school facilities funding. The study, conducted by the New York City Charter School Center and Northeast Charter Schools Network in partnership with the Colorado League of Charter schools, surveyed the state’s 184 charter schools (as of the 2011-2012 school year) about where they house their schools.
Survey results found that New York charter schools in private space spend on average $2,025 per pupil (15% of total) to pay rent or mortgage. In New York City, where 38% of charters are in private space, schools spend on average $2,350 per pupil (17% of total) on their buildings—dollars that would otherwise pay for teachers, guidance counselors and instructional materials, among other things.
The survey found that many charters in both private and public space lack basic amenities such as auditoriums, cafeterias and playgrounds. Libraries, music rooms and science labs are each present in less than half of charter schools.
“Charter schools are asking for basic fairness when it comes to educating their public school students and a system that forces schools to take funds out of the classroom to pay rent is clearly one that is broken,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. “These struggles will only intensify as the demand for charter schools continues to grow across the state. With 45,000 new seats needed over the next four years, we need to address this problem today and make sure that students have access to the great public schools they want to attend.”
"This is about funding equity. Charter schools teach some of our state's most at-risk children, and we should be sure they receive their fair share of public support," said Bill Phillips, President of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. "It is time for a serious discussion about how to restructure the school finance system so all students benefit from the same investment."
Charter advocates recognize that colocation, while critically important, cannot be the only solution because there isn’t enough space to accommodate every school. As such, the report lays out four recommendations to address the funding inequities and provide charters with easier access to space. It asks state and local officials to:
- Create a steady source of funding for charter school facilities. New York State should create a new, annual funding stream for charter schools’ facility needs. Like funding for charter school operations, charter facility funding would be allocated on a per-pupil basis. Unlike operating funds, facility funding could be paid from the state budget and not require reallocating funds from within school districts’ budgets.
- Continue the practice of colocation in NYC, and require other districts to share available space also. New York City’s next mayor should respect charter schools’ existing colocation arrangements and approach new siting decisions—for charter and district schools—with a genuine commitment to fairness, transparency and educational choice.
- Ensure that new funding programs foster equity, autonomy, and accountability. A new system for charter school facility funding requires more than dollars and must take into account charter schools’ autonomy. For example, new funding should not simply flow through existing state programs, such as building aid, which are burdensome to administrators and not designed for charter schools.
- Make equitable, student-based funding a reality for all public schools, district or charter. Equal facility funding for charter and district school students would resolve a severe inequity, but other problems would remain. New York’s entire system for financing public education is on an unsustainable and inequitable path. Spending mandates, tax caps, and incompletely implemented reforms from past years all prevent education funding from benefitting all students equitably.
“Without facilities funding, we were forced to break our school up into two parts, and the geographic division of our campus is a major strain on the daily work of our staff. Half of our school is housed in a portable trailer provided by NYC DOE rent-free and the other half is in private space in a Catholic school building; the two halves are separated by a 20-minute walk. This means we have to pay for staff at each location; two deans to handle discipline issues rather than one, two front-office administrators rather than one – it really adds up. And, just as important, we aren’t able to have as much teacher collaboration at all grade levels as other public schools housed in the same building. When we have staff meetings or professional development opportunities, not everyone is able to attend because of the distance. It’s very unfortunate, but we make the best of what we have,” said Christina Reyes, School Leader of Inwood Academy for Leadership Charter School, in Upper Manhattan.
The space crunch will only grow as existing charters grow to scale and new schools come on line to meet some of the overwhelming demand from families across the state. New York State is likely to need 45,000 new charter seats in the next four years and colocation can only address part of the problem. Even if public space continues to be available, an estimated 30,000 other seats will be needed in the next four years just to keep up with demand.
A link to the full study can be found here.
The New York City Charter School Center is an independent non-profit committed to fostering an environment in which public charters can open and flourish, and, through their innovative approaches, provide models for improving all public schools. The Charter Center helps new charter schools get started, supports existing schools, and engages the charter school community around key issues.
The Northeast Charter Schools Network is a regional advocacy organization advocating for charter schools in New York and Connecticut. Its mission is to support and expand high quality charter schools in the region.
About NYC’s/NYS’ Charter Schools
Charter schools are free, independently run public schools that are able to innovate in their classroom structures, curriculum, and teaching methods. In return, they’re held to higher standards of accountability. More than 90 percent of the City’s charter school students are African-American or Latino, and more than 75 percent are from low-income families. There are currently 159 public charter schools serving students in all five boroughs, with a total of more than 200 schools across the state. All together an estimated 75,000 students in New York attend charter schools.