Perhaps you have seen the headlines and the television interviews about how New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is closing charter schools, evicting poor minority children, destroying their dreams for the future, and their chance to escape failing public schools.
Almost all the complaints come from Eva Moskowitz, who runs New York City's largest charter chain. Her grievances have been amply vented on Fox News, MSNBC's Morning Joe and Chris Mathews, in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.
Time for a fact check.
When de Blasio ran for mayor, he said he would slow the growth of charters and would charge them rent, based on their ability to pay. In the closing months of the Bloomberg administration, the city's Department of Education approved 45 new co-locations. A co-location is a new school inserted into an existing public school, meaning that different schools must share the cafeteria, library, playground, and give up its art room, music room, and every other space that is not an active classroom. Public school parents hate co-locations, because it means overcrowding, jostling for space, and reduction of facilities.
The new mayor, having inherited 45 co-locations, decided to approve 36 of them. This disappointed many public school parents. The mayor turned down only nine co-locations.
The de Blasio administration rejected the nine based on these criteria:
- It would not approve putting an elementary school into a high school.
- It would not open any school with less than 250 students because the school would be too small to meet the needs of students.
- It would not approve any co-locations that required heavy construction.
- It would not approve any co-location that dislocated students with disabilities. The neediest kids would not be shoved aside to make room for other students.
The nine schools that were turned down did not meet these criteria.
Of 17 charter schools that applied, 14 were approved.
Success Academy, which has screamed the loudest about losing space, won five new charters, not the eight that it wanted. Yet Eva Moskowitz was so outraged that she closed her 22 schools for a day and bused thousands of students and parents to Albany to lead a mass rally against de Blasio's failure to give her the eight schools she wanted. Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared at Moskowitz's rally to pledge his loyalty to charter schools.
De Blasio did not abandon charters or evict children from charters. The attacks on him are a power play by charter operators, specifically Moskowitz, to restore the good old days of the Bloomberg administration, when her requests were never turned down. This blowup is also intended to send a message to de Blasio not to mess with charter schools. While it is true that they enroll only 3 percent of New York state's children and only 6 percent of New York City's children, their boards contain the city's financial elite. They can pay millions for a media campaign; they can make $800,000 in campaign contributions to Governor Cuomo, but they refuse to pay rent.
There is another peculiar aspect to the charter controversy in New York City. The charter industry has a theory that schools with high scores are entitled to evict schools that serve children with profound disabilities. This is a challenge not only to Mayor de Blasio, but to our basic sense of fairness and decency. Should schools with high scores (even if they are obtained by excluding students with handicaps and students who don't speak English) get preferential treatment as compared to schools that enroll students with lower scores and to schools that enroll students who are profoundly disabled?
Diane Ravitch is a historian of education and author of the national best-seller Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools.