BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
It is back to school season for students and teachers, and back to charter school issues for the City Council Education Committee.
The committee, chaired by Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), submitted an open letter Thursday to the SUNY Board of Trustees, urging a halt in the authorization of new charter schools until a number of concerns are addressed.
Though public, charter schools are not subject to the same City oversight as traditional public schools.
The New York City Charter School Center reports that about 70,000 students were enrolled in City charter schools this past year.
City Charter Schools are slated to receive about $14,000 per student from the City in the 2015-2016 school year, according to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute.
In its letter, the education committee stated charter school concerns that arose during a May 6 oversight hearing, including harsh discipline practices, high teacher and student attrition, exclusionary admissions, discriminatory marketing and lack of transparency in the use of public funds.
A May 2014 report by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform noted exclusionary enrollment practices, such as requiring social security numbers at enrollment, requiring student interviews or requiring parents to volunteer during the school year.
The report also indicated that students with disabilities are under-represented in City charter schools, representing 12 percent of students as opposed to 17 percent in traditional public schools. English language learners meanwhile represent only five percent of charter students, compared to 14 percent of traditional public school students.
In a response statement, New York City Charter Schools Center CEO James Merriman asked, “Is this New York City or the Twilight Zone?”
“How else to explain why a group of council members, some of them representing communities with the lowest performing schools and largest waiting lists for public charter schools, would try to block more of these schools from opening?” Merriman continued.
“They should take the time to meet with the authorizers and other officials so that they understand New York’s strong system of oversight and accountability,” Merriman said.
Dromm said that he does not universally oppose charter schools, citing the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights as one he appreciates for being transparent, unionized and not drawing huge profits.
However, Dromm said, he has problems with other charters such as the Success Academies, “where you have a woman who has enriched herself paying herself $500,000 a year.”
Dromm was referring to Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy CEO, who reported making $475,244 in 2012.
“I have questions about oversight over somebody who is making that type of dollars. That’s where my concerns lie,” Dromm said.
“Since 82 percent of students at Success Academies pass the state math tests compared to 30 percent at district schools, Dromm’s obsession with investigating Success is plainly about kowtowing to the teachers union, not helping kids,” Moskowitz said in a statement to the Queens Tribune.
2013 data published by the Dept. of Education indicates that City Charters outperformed traditional public schools on third through eighth grade Common Core math tests, while traditional schools slightly outperformed charters on third through eighth grade Common Core English tests.
According to Catherine Kramer, director of charter school information at the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, SUNY is slated to vote on 17 proposed charter schools in October and is taking public comments until then.
“All these comments, including those from the New York City Council, will be taken into consideration by the trustees when they make their final determination on the applications,” Kramer said in a statement.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JNStrawbridge.