The controversial Success Academy Charter Schools network -- founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz -- is expected to receive a 50 percent increase in its per-pupil management fee on Monday, despite it already being one of the wealthiest and biggest-spending charter school operators in New York City.
In April, Success Academy applied for an increase from $1,350 to $2,000 in the annual per student payment it receives from the state to operate 10 of its charter schools, reports the New York Daily News.
The trustees of the State University of New York postponed voting on the proposal following public backlash over the agency’s failure to reveal justification for the increase. On Friday morning, it finally released some documents, including a May 22 letter from Moskowitz claiming her network has been heavily subsidizing shortfalls in its management costs for years through outside donations and grants, according to the Daily News.
In the letter, Moskowitz writes that Success Academy’s “shortfall” reached $4.7 million, and that with the “deficit … increasing every year, the current situation is simply unsustainable.”
But the network’s fundraising numbers and spending habits call into question the extent of its financial constraints. Success Academy received $28 million from foundations and investors over the past six years, and additional millions in state and federal grants.
Additionally, last year the Success Network spent $883,119 on student recruitment, including flyers mailed to parents, bus stop and Internet ads and paid recruiters who went door-to-door soliciting student applications. It devoted another $1.3 million to “network events and community outreach."
By comparison, other charter schools rarely spend more than a few thousand dollars on student recruitment, according to the Daily News.
The funding controversy in New York comes as charter school attendance rates have exploded over the last decade through a growing school choice movement. Charter schools, which are publicly funded but can be independently run, often promise to bring greater equity to education.
But taxpayers and lawmakers may be reluctant to funnel more money into charter schools, as many of the institutions have yet to prove their promise.
A study by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education in April looked at charter and traditional public schools in Michigan, where both receive about the same operational funding. Researchers found that charter schools actually spent more per-student on administration and less on instruction than non-charter public schools.
Additionally, a University of Colorado's National Education Policy Center paper found that charter schools tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools, despite advocates' assertion that charters allow educational innovation and equality that doesn't rely on a student's zip code. Critics note that these institutions also strip traditional public schools of resources.
In December, a report by the Center for Education Reform called into question performance-based accountability for charter schools, noting that only 3 percent of charter schools have ever been closed for underperforming in the last two decades.
"Until charter schools start showing there are innovative, well-managed schools, they're still going to be on the hot seat," Harrison Blackmond, who heads the Michigan arm of the pro-charter group Democrats for Education Reform, told The Huffington Post last year. "It's hard to defend charter schools if they're not outperforming traditional public schools."