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In 2013, when Bill de Blasio ran for Mayor of New York City for the first time, he was an outspoken supporter of public schools and an equally outspoken critic of charter schools. Taking him at his word, he won over many public school parents and advocates by his willingness to break with the Bloomberg policy of favoring charters over public schools. At the time, he met with me, sought my endorsement, and won it based on his firm commitment to stop privatization. I feel betrayed after reading the story that follows.
His first schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, a high-level veteran of the Bloomberg administration, walked a fine line, trying not to antagonize either side. The public schools enroll over 1.1 million children and the charters enroll 114,000 students. The charters are the darlings of the financial world and Wall Street and the big donors.
The new chancellor, Richard Carranza, visited three charter schools yesterday and embraced them as “public schools,” not “publicly funded private schools,” which is what most people see with their own eyes since they are operated by private boards and make their own rules about admissions and discipline and other matters.
Leonie Haimson, in a note to her listserve, asks these questions:
If they are public schools, why do they refuse to follow state law when it comes to suspension and expulsion policies? Why do they refuse audits from the state comptroller, and refuse performance audits from the city comptroller?
Why do their Charter Management Companies refuse to comply with FOILs or Open Meetings Law?
Why do they have the right to access space at the city’s expense, while more than half a million public school students are crammed into overcrowded buildings with no hope of relief?
The reality is that charter schools are private corporations that use public funding, and use their backing from billionaires to demand special privileges from elected officials, while refusing to follow the same rules or submit to the same oversight as public schools that are governed by public bodies.
There is an emerging body of law which is challenging the notion that charter schools are public schools. See The Legal Status of Charter Schools in State Statutory Law by Preston Green and Bruce Baker. The reality is that charter schools claim to be public schools when that advantages them in terms of funding or PR, and claim that they are private entities when that advantages them in terms of being able to ignore laws pertaining to student discipline, building code regulations, fair labor practices, fiscal and performance transparency, and a host of other issues.
I have some questions: If charters are public schools, why are they allowed to close school and send their students, teachers, and parents to political rallies in Albany and at City Hall? Will Chancellor Carranza authorize all public schools to do the same or will he forbid the charter schools from using their students as political fodder to get more money for the charters? If charters are allowed to control their admissions and discipline policies, should other public schools get the same approval to do so? If deregulation is important for those “public schools,” why aren’t all public schools similarly deregulated? If charters are public schools, shouldn’t they be subject to the same legal requirements as other public schools? Or are they private contractors who are not state actors, as charters have repeatedly said in their defense in federal courts and before the NLRB?
Sharon Otterman of the New York Times wrote:
New York City’s schools chancellor signaled on Wednesday that he wanted to usher in a new era of détente between the Department of Education and the city’s charter school sector, which have often been at odds under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio over issues like finances and the pressures of sharing public school space.
“Charter Schools are public schools,” Richard Carranza, the chancellor, said in the cafeteria of the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, as he wrapped up a day of visits to three charter schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx, to which he had invited reporters along. Even that simple statement was likely to make waves among charter school opponents, who prefer to describe charters as privately run, publicly funded schools.
“The question about charters versus traditional public schools,” Mr. Carranza added, addressing reporters around a cafeteria table, “is a red herring.”
“I would say that the more dialogue we have around building a portfolio of good choices for all students in the city, and the less we emphasize a dialogue about ‘us versus them,’ the better it is for all the children in New York City,” he said.
Crossing what was once a white-hot line for the de Blasio administration, Mr. Carranza said he would visit a Success Academy charter school “in the next few weeks.” Mayor de Blasio was elected in 2013 vowing to take action against the aggressive expansion of charter networks like Success Academy, which is led by his former political rival, Eva S. Moskowitz, and which now runs 46 of the 227 charter schools in the city.
“Time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place,” Mr. de Blasio said while campaigning in 2013. “She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”
In February 2014, Mr. de Blasio reversed a decision by former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to provide space in city public school buildings to three charter schools, all part of the Success network.
In the political fallout, state legislators, with urging from the governor, passed a law requiring the city to pay much of the rent for new charter schools if it denied them free space, effectively curtailing Mr. de Blasio from removing more schools.
Chancellor Carranza “said he was happy to hear all three of the charters he visited hired only certified teachers, but he steered clear of the divisive political issue at play: that most charter schools in New York City are not unionized.”