BY JAMES MERRIMAN
Charter Schools in Queens spent about $11.3 million on rent and other facility costs during the 2013-14 year. Why? Because charter schools do not automatically receive access to a building, nor do they receive dedicated facility funding. Of the 14 charter schools located in Queens, 11 are housed in private space and forced to divert public dollars to disproportionately high rents, where it should otherwise be spent on instruction for students.
The absence of facility funding will prove to be problematic for high-performing charter schools, as they must continue to pad the pockets of their landlords on a monthly basis. An analysis of 2013-14 financial audits found that New York State charter schools in private space spend on average $2,500 per pupil on rent and other facility costs.
All public schools in Queens should be created equal, but without physical spaces to educate students for charters, this becomes virtually impossible. This is a problem occurring not only in Queens, but also throughout the entire State and City.
An estimated $118 million dollars are spent each year in the state’s charter schools operating in private space. That money could have provided each school with four more teachers, two teaching assistants, two guidance counselors, a completely furnished science lab and more. It could go towards basic amenities – libraries, science labs, gyms or music rooms – that many charter facilities lack today.
In New York City as a whole, there are 74 charter schools that operate exclusively in private space and receive no public funding for their facility costs – which average $2,500 per student – making them the most inequitably funded public schools in the city. There are a total of 29,000 City students in private charter school facilities.
There is a growing demand for charter schools in Queens and throughout New York State. Last year, 70,700 students applied for 21,000 seats. There is simply not enough underutilized space to accommodate all those students.
Help is on its way for charter school students this year. Queens parents will come together, along with parents throughout the state, to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s big-thinking budget, because they know equitable, student-based funding should be a reality for all public schools, district and charter. New York City can achieve charter facility funding allocated on a per-pupil basis that simultaneously ensures equity, autonomy and accountability for these schools.
Whether they are students in Queens, Brooklyn or any of the boroughs, New York’s public school children deserve to be on equal footing when it comes to classroom space and quality education so that they each have an equal opportunity for a bright future.
James Merriman is the CEO of the New York City Center For Charter School Excellence.