With tightened restrictions, charter schools likely to leave New York City


PONDER THIS: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio apparently wants to dismantle the city’s charter schools.

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

After New York City spent years building a thriving charter school community, Bill Phillips, president of Northeast Charter Schools Network, says Mayor Bill de Blasio is showing how to take it down, .

“If New York City has been a national model for growing charters, I think Mayor de Blasio is laying out a blueprint for killing charter expansion,” said Phillips, whose school network serves New York and Connecticut. “This is clearly a blueprint: Do everything on your power to take away access to buildings. Facilities are almost always one of the major challenges for charters across the country.”

In New York City, 70,000 students attend charter schools and more than 50,000 are on waiting lists.

During his campaign, de Blasio clearly voiced his intention to charge rent to charter schools co-locating with district schools, sparking a protest involving about 20,000 charter school supporters.

Between the high cost of New York City real estate and a desire to keep actual school sizes relatively small, it’s common for districts to run multiple schools out of the same building. About 10 percent of co-locating schools are charters, Phillips said.

About three-quarters of New York City’s charter school students attend co-locating schools.

Last week, de Blasio’s administration pulled $210 million allotted for new charter school buildings and directed it to expanding preschool programs. He’s placed a moratorium on new charter school co-locations. And schools slated to open soon with co-locations approved by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg may see that approval taken away.

“He doesn’t want co-location, and he pulled every little bit of money that charter schools could use to build their own space,” Phillips said. “Kids need to go into buildings. … It’s very clear that he wants to make it more difficult for existing charters and make sure there’s no expansion of chartering in New York City.”

Pressuring charter schools out of the city will be detrimental to the city and the state – and could benefit nearby states, he said.

“We have some of the best (charter school) operators in the country in New York City, and I know that operators are starting to look elsewhere,” he said.

Phillips wouldn’t name any specific charter operators, but alluding to his position in the New York and Connecticut charter school scene, said he knew this was already happening.

Darcia Toll, chief executive officer of Achievement First, told the New Haven Independent the charter operators will forgo new schools in New York City and instead open in Connecticut because “a charter skeptic just replaced a pro-charter mayor,” the Independent reports.

“You can’t rest on your laurels. There’s such a demand for education talent, and this is going to hurt us,” Northeast Charter’s Phillips said. “We’re going to start seeing a brain drain in terms of successful charter operators, and there’s not an understanding that other states are competing for our talent. This is reputationally hurting our state. When the reputation of New York City is hurt, it reverberates. It hurts Rochester. It hurts Buffalo.”

But most parents aren’t interested in the political battles, he said.

“Parents are not ideological about labels,” Phillips said. “They just want better choices. When you make it hard for charters to grow, you’re taking away choice from families.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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