Growing Movement For And Against Charter Schools

By Tom Siracuse:

More than 1.6 million students attend 5,000 charters in the U.S.. Only 10 states have no charters. Los Angeles and Detroit have around 70,000 students each in charters and Washington D.C.’s charters account for 58% of its public school students. The Louisiana State Legislature used the Katrina hurricane disaster to take over New Orleans’ public schools, de-unionized them and now 61% of the city’s students are in charters.

Charter schools are spreading throughout New York City, invading the space of regular public school buildings. Mayor Bloomberg hopes to open charters for 100,000 students in the next few years while having closed over 100 regular public schools. During the Clinton Administration, Congress passed a tax credit giving big tax credits to banks and investment funds to invest in charter schools. Pres. Bush and now Pres. Obama continue to push for charters. According to research done by Daily News reporter, Juan Gonzalez, with these credits, investors will “virtually double their money in seven years”…”charter schools end up paying in rents, the debt service on these loans and so now, a lot of charter schools in Albany are straining paying their debts…And of course, the money is coming from the State…No one knows who are the people making these huge windfall profits…Often there are interlocking relationships between the charter school boards and the non-profit groups that organize and syndicate the loans.”

Eva Moskowitz, founder of the “Harlem Success Academy” makes more than the NYC School Chancellor! Her charter has taken away much needed space from Harlem’s P.S 123 although 123 was recognized by the BOE as so successful that it approved adding the 7th grade. That was scrapped and 123 lost two science labs, the teachers’ lounge, the parent room which had computer and GED classes and half its library while Moskowitz’s charter will have two science labs for its first graders and kindergarten. Originally, her charter was supposed to take away space from Harlem’s PS 194 but parents and teachers fought it back. PS 241 and 375 in Harlem also lost crucial space to charters. The teachers and parents at 123 were not consulted and this provoked a sit-in and then protests last summer. Despite community and even local political opposition, another of Moskowitz’s charters is scheduled to co-locate an elementary charter with a kindergarten in Brandeis High School on the upper West Side in Manhattan. Other high schools in middle class neighborhoods scheduled to close or co-located are John F. Kennedy, John Jay, and Norman Thomas. Now that the economy is failing, middle class parents do not want to pay for expensive private schools and are pushing for charters and “academies” in their neighborhoods which will mainly serve their children. Will these schools be organized so that they will be open to most lower income families?

The rationale for charters is that they offer a better education to children in problem inner city schools. However, charters do not serve those who need the most help–very few have even minimal programs for students with special needs including ESL students. Savvy parents who know how to apply have an advantage. Charters can cap size and get rid of problem and unperforming students. Despite this, according to researchers from Stanford University, students in more than 80% of charters surveyed in 15 states performed no better than those in traditional public schools. The bottom line of charters is profit and that will impact on spending money on teachers and students. Statistics often are used to justify a particular philosophy. Do we have statistics that compare charters with regular public schools with similar students, resources, programs, and class size?

Charters have a higher turnover of administrators and teachers. Union contracts can be modified and many charters do not have to hire union teachers. As the economy continues in a crisis, State and City budgets face huge deficits. Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg are planning massive layoffs. As money is channeled to charters, regular public schools will bear the brunt. Class size will go up. Teachers and parents are pitted against each other for a share of the shrinking budget. Why haven’t the AFT, NYST, and UFT opposed charters? They say that charters are inevitable and we will have to come on board. The UFT itself runs charters and yet charters are a grave threat to the teacher contract and to the public school community as a whole.

Tom Siracuse
“Stop School Closings” and
Retiree Advocate Caucus (UFT)