Chancellor Requests More Money for Pre-K Seats, and Less for Charter Schools

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Chancellor Carmen Farina with deputies Dorita Gibson and Phil Weinberg

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants to give charter schools less help in the next five-year building plan, by using some money they previously received to help create more pre-kindergarten seats and to reduce class sizes.

The chancellor announced late on Friday afternoon that she's proposed to add 7,000 more seats to the Department of Education's capital plan for the fiscal years 2015-2019 (which starts in July of this year). 

“These revisions will help us create high-quality, full-day pre-kindergarten seats citywide that will deliver strong instruction," said Fariña, in a press release. "The changes also will add seats to reduce class size among all grade levels.”

The revisions would increase the overall funding for the proposed plan to $12.8 billion from $12.0 billion.

The D.O.E. said $210 million of that would come from money that was set aside in the previous capital plan to help non-profits and charter schools create new school space. A spokeswoman, Marge Feinberg, said these funds had yet to be set aside through requests for proposals, and would not affect any buildings before the 2015 school year.

The city also wants to pay for the seats and technology upgrades with $800 million from a bond act proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which would need approval from state voters.

The late-day announcement upset advocates of charter schools.

"Tonight, the chancellor cut funding for thousands of students to attend excellent public charter schools," said Jeremiah Kittridge, executive director of the group Families for Excellent Schools. "Once again, students and families have their educational future imperiled."

James Merriman, C.E.O. of the New York City Charter School Center, said the city should have included charters in helping to expand the number of pre-k seats.

“If they’re interested in results, they will make sure high-performing charter schools are fully included in the pre-k program, including maintaining capital funding," he said. "Otherwise, it will be clear that their move to push pre-K is more about ideology than about helping children.”

The charter community is already anxious about the de Blasio administration's forthcoming plan to charge rent to charters, and about lawsuits seeking to reverse many co-locations of charters in public school buildings which were approved last year.

But D.O.E. officials stood by their plan, citing an era of limited finances.

The entire plan would also create more than 32,560 seats in areas of current overcrowding and projected enrollment growth, along with investment in existing facilities. 

The capital plan is scheduled to be sent to the Panel for Educational Policy for approval at its meeting on March 18, then it will be submitted to the mayor and city council for adoption in June as part of the city’s budget. It can be viewed at this link.

Meanwhile, the mayor and the governor are still at odds over de Blasio's proposal to provide more full-day pre kindergarten seats through a tax on the city's wealthiest residents.