De Blasio's Rent Plan Makes Charters Anxious

Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Monique Hopkins and her daughter Jeniece Thomas worry about Bill de Blasio's plan to charge rent to charters. Jeniece asked him about it when she met him in Harlem. (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been one of the nation’s foremost promoters of charter schools. The leading contender to replace him in City Hall has a very different view. Chief among the differences: Bill de Blasio wants many charter schools to pay rent for space in school buildings, albeit on a sliding scale.

"It would depend on the resources of the charter school or charter network," de Blasio explained. "Some are clearly very, very well resourced and have incredible wealthy backers. Others don't. So my simple point was that programs that can afford to pay rent should be paying rent. We certainly need the resources in terms of our public budget. Those that are less resourced should not have to pay rent. But the notion that it's one size fits all, regardless of the resources of the charter school, makes no sense to me."

The Democrat gave no details for how much rent he would charge for the better-funded charters. He did indicate that also wants to ensure charters serve all students equally (see more below). A campaign aide said he would be willing to work with all the stakeholders and a new Department of Education if elected mayor. His chief rival, Republican candidate Joseph Lhota said he would like to double the number of charter schools in New York City, rent-free.

Not surprisingly, representatives of the charter school sector said they were very anxious about the prospect of a de Blasio administration. Many charter operators also acknowledge that Lhota is highly unlikely to become mayor, and that most of their own members are Democrats. That's why they have been reluctant to antagonize the Democratic candidate.

But charter operators, from the smallest to the largest, said paying rent would be devastating. The privately managed schools get state funds, per-pupil, for operations, not for facilities. And those that operate in New York City are required to be non-profit organizations.

A report by the Independent Budget Office found charter schools that are co-located actually get a few hundred dollars more per student than district schools when you factor in the value of their space. The New York City charter center disputes that, however, partly because it says the report undervalued how much more money regular public schools get in pension contributions for their unionized teachers. It points to a letter by Department of Education that criticized the I.B.O.'s report.

David Levin, co-founder of the national charter network KIPP, has 10 charter schools in New York City, only one of which is in its own building. He said this policy of space sharing enabled his schools to flourish. They now serve about 5,000 students.

But in other districts, he said his network had to pay rent which "severely limited our ability to grow, which is why increasingly in places like Houston and St. Louis and Atlanta, districts are starting to co-locate schools."

KIPP said the cost of rent ranges from $157 per student in Baltimore to $589 per student in Memphis.

Jeff Litt, superintendent of the Icahn charter network, now has seven schools, only two of which are in Department of Education buildings. The network was founded by the investor Carl Icahn, who paid for the other schools to have their own buildings. But Litt said that doesn't mean the foundation that runs his schools has extra money to suddenly start paying for rent on the charters that are located in public school buildings. Nor does he see why it should. 

Litt noted that charters aren't the only schools sharing space, because hundreds of regular public schools are co-located in the same buildings. “What’s the difference between us or when the mayor has two or three schools in the same building? I really don’t understand the argument.”

Steven Evangelista, who runs the charter Harlem Link, said he finds the ideas of charters paying rent district school buildings "abhorrent and unjust" because charters don't receive capital dollars from the city. He also said charging rent, "would effectively shut down the charter movement, since we have had zero increase in the past several years in our per-pupil funding and already budgeted at a six-figure deficit this year. And we feel we are one of the more fiscally responsible charters."

Damisa and Robert Henry said the Success Academy charter in Crown Heights, where their daughter Emily goes, should not have to pay rent to share space inside P.S. 167. (Beth Fertig/WNYC)

Some charter operators are looking at the prospect of rent in the future budgets. According to documents obtained by WNYC, one charter school in Brooklyn (which declined to be named) projected paying as much as a one million dollars a year - sending it into the red - if it had to pay several hundred dollars per student in rent.

Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success network of charter schools, said she has not started planning for rent. Her network has 22 schools, all of them in Department of Education buildings, with six more planned for next year. Although her board members include people from the financial sector, and De Blasio has singled her out for being well resourced, she pointed out that most of her schools are in the poorest neighborhoods of the city.

Moskowitz has sent a letter to the families of her students encouraging them to attend the march across the Brooklyn Bridge next week organized by Families for Excellent Schools, to show their support for charters. She has even made the march part of the school day.

Brooklyn parent Damisa Henry said she will gladly attend with her five-year-old daughter Emily, who is a student at the Crown Heights Success school. Henry said she was unhappy about de Blasio's plan to charge charters rent, adding that it could affect her vote for mayor.

"How are they going to raise money to do that?"

But Althea Judge, whose daughter Jeanette (pictured above) attends the district school whose building is being used by the charter, supports de Blasio. P.S. 167 is in the process of being phased out for low performance.

"We have funds that we should be able to help these public schools out," she said. "We need funding."

De Blasio also suggested that he would hold charters accountable on issues other than rent. He said he would like to see charter schools educating a larger share of children with special needs and English-language learners. And he may consider those figures when weighing school closures.

"Some schools are working great, others aren't working so well and will have to be replaced," he said. "And so we're going to work with each and every school that is functioning well for its children and that is representing the children of each district. We want to see charters, like traditional public schools, have every kind of child involved. The ones that are doing well and are representative, I'm sure I will work with quite fine."

Technically, the charters don’t have leases with the city but they could not be evicted without review. Any changes in the utilization of a public school building must be reviewed by the Panel for Educational Policy; a majority of PEP members are appointed by the mayor.


Comments [13]

We Are Public Schools from Brooklyn, NY

If all children in NYC had access to a great public school, this conversation would be null. The reality remains the neighborhood where you can afford to live determines the quality of the school you can attend. Parents in poor neighborhoods know this intimately and for this reason have embraced high quality charter schools where seats are given to students in a random lottery and where students on food stamps or living in public housing gain additional tickets/chances of gaining entrance into the school. These are the schools that Mr. DeBlasio seems intent gutting of critical resources. The reason -- they threaten the status quo, challenge our low expectations for children of color, and challenge the very system that keeps poor children poor. STOP IT.

Oct. 07 2013 02:02 PM
Brooklyn Parent from Brooklyn

Sam from NY, You are just plain wrong and you are inventing data.

The majority of NYC charters have LESS English Language Learners, LESS studnets who qualify for Free Lunch, and LESS students with special needs than the neighborhood public school kids. This is an incontrovertible fact.

In the whole of NYC, there are very few charter schools that serve more at-risk and higher-needs populations than their nearby neighborhood public schools.

Aside for the very important fact that NYC DOE doesn't oversee the majority of charters that are housed in NYC. The state put a formula of funding for charter schools and Mayor Bloomberg (against parent input) offers free space to these non-NYC DOE charter schools.

And "We are Public Schools," what you're talking about is nonsense for NYC parents. Zoning is not destiny in NYC. As long as there is space in a public school, you can attend it. And there are plenty of excellent schools across NYC that are under-enrolled.

Oct. 03 2013 08:47 PM
Sam from New York

A simple analysis of publicly available data for traditional neighborhood schools, and for successful charter networks serving the same districts, indicates that the charters serve the same percentage of spacial-needs students and English-language learners. Moreover, there is a very weak correlation between the numbers of those students and the performance of the schools. On the other hand, the charters tend to serve a much poorer and minority-dominated population, while often outperforming the neighborhood schools by leaps and bounds. These schools do not receive money for facilities in their budgets. Given these points, charging them rent (while professing to be advocating for the poor) is beyond reason.

Oct. 02 2013 08:59 PM
We Are Public Schools from Brooklyn, NY

Rent continues to be the defining mechanism of withholding a quality education from our students who need it most. If you can't pay the rent in a neighborhood with a great public school, you are not permitted to attend. Students in poor neighborhoods are left with few options. And now, the decent options they have are about to be significantly depleted of resources through the mechanism of rent. For a man who defines himself as an advocate for the poor, this policy is likely to have the affect of hurting decent schools that poor people now attend. If you need the revenue so badly, charge any school (Public/Charter -- however you want to define it) that does not meet a %75 FRPL rate and give those additional funds to schools that do meet that benchmark. It could be a redistribution of wealth channeling funds from Park Slope to Brownsville. Otherwise -- just STOP IT

Oct. 02 2013 06:48 PM
Brooklyn parent and deBlasio supporter from Brookl from Brooklyn

To "We Are Public Schools from Brooklyn, NY,"

You should look at the data and enrollment statistics in NYC charter schools. The majority have much more elitist populations than the schools in the areas where the charters are housed. The charters have less students who qualify for Free Lunch, less students with IEPs, and less English Language Learners.

Oct. 02 2013 12:02 PM
Brooklyn parent and deBlasio supporter from Brooklyn

The first priority should always be the neighborhood public schools which are charged with educating every child in a community - no lottery necessary.

There are several considerations that the pro-charter movement likes to ignore:

1) Charter schools in NY State were given a particular per-pupil funding by law. Bloomberg decided to increase that funding by offering charter schools rent free space in neighborhood public school buildings.

2) Free rent gives charters schools close to $700 MORE per pupil funding from tax dollars than neighborhood public schools. That's not even including the access they have to private dollars through New Market Tax Credits, and the ridiculously lucrative start up grants and DYCD grants. And all that up and charter schools have a whole lot more than neighborhood public schools.

3) Whether or not charter schools are "public schools" depends on the definition of "public." By many definitions, and in many different areas, charter schools are not considered "public schools." Charter schools use public tax dollars but they are not accountable to the public. They answer to a Board of Directors, not the parents or the community. The public does not oversee the schools. In NY, SUNY may oversee the schools, but only every 5 years. Charter schools essentially operate as independent contractors.

4) Lots of cities and states do not offer charter schools rent free space.

5) Charter schools in NYC all have contingency plans for paying rent in their proposals to SUNY.

Oct. 02 2013 11:44 AM
We Are Public Schools from Brooklyn, NY

If rent is to be based on the sliding scale that DeBlasio suggests, it should additionally be charged to traditional public schools who receive millions in additional private funding through PTA and private fundraising each year. These are exclusive public schools, supported by private funding, who restrict enrollment based on a parent's ability to live in neighborhoods far exceeding even a middle class income.

Having been excluded from these schools, poor families now have found charter schools as their next best option. Generally local traditional public schools are dismal and places where no decent parent would choose unless they did not have a choice. For some reason, DeBlasio and others are intent on removing resources from these public charter schools and ultimately from these children. STOP IT.

Oct. 02 2013 11:29 AM
natasha from washington heights

I think a big problem is that not many people are educated on the charter versus traditional public school issue. For one thing charters are public schools too. We do not pay tuition for our children to attend. There was a lottery simply because there are not enough seats for families who want to attend. This is because there is a cap on the number of charters that are allowed to operate in NYC. Then other idea that they do not represent the communities that they are housed in is ridiculous. Most charters are in neglected communities. In my daughters charter school we have children with IEPs and that recieve therapy. Just like any other public school. Discrimination? I think our school community is diversified and represents a community who wants the best for their children and are invested in them and their future.

Oct. 01 2013 11:53 PM
natasha from washington heights

I think a big problem is that not many people are educated on the charter versus traditional public school issue. For one thing charters are public schools too. We do not pay tuition for our children to attend. There was a lottery simply because there are not enough seats for families who want to attend. This is because there is a cap on the number of charters that are allowed to operate in NYC. Then other idea that they do not represent the communities that they are housed in is ridiculous. Most charters are in neglected communities. In my daughters charter school we have children with IEPs and that recieve therapy. Just like any other public school. Discrimination? I think our school community is diversified and represents a community who wants the best for their children and are invested in them and their future.

Oct. 01 2013 09:56 PM

You commenorson, like de blasio are forgetting one thing. The children. every child is entitled to a certain amount of tax money to funds his our her education. If the child is lucky enough to have been taken out of a failing public school and placed in a charter school, then fifteen or twenty thousand dollars follows the kid. If a part of that money is rent of the space the child learns in, that it's appropriate. Noone owes the board if ed anything for making space available for one of the children under its mandate to have a place to learn

Oct. 01 2013 09:53 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

If charter schools are charging tuition and using DOE buildings, hell, yeah, they should be paying rent. They are in direct competition with our public school system and they should not be getting a free ride.

Oct. 01 2013 04:44 PM
Bob from Manhattan

I think it should be on a case by case (or school by school) basis. I've spoken to many parents who are delighted that their children attend Charter Schools; all of their children got in by lottery---on the other hand, we know that neighborhood schools, sharing the same spaces as the charters, need a great deal more financial input. Whatever deBlasio wishes to do with Charters, the real issue is building the strengths of the neighborhood schools, bringing them up to the same level as the charters, putting both money and more teachers in them, which I think is possible. This will be the real DeBlasio mandate.

Oct. 01 2013 10:21 AM

Such a simple solution. Charters should be required to have as many high needs students as public schools. They should also be required not to counsel out students with discipline problems. Public schools are required by state law to keep them, so why not charter schools.

Oct. 01 2013 10:11 AM

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