The NYC Charter Grand Bargain

On Tuesday, Bill De Blasio will be elected Mayor of New York City. 

1. Here's what NYC's likely new mayor has said about charter schools:

Bill de Blasio wants many charter schools to pay rent for space in school buildings, albeit on a sliding scale.

"It would depend on the resources of the charter school or charter network," de Blasio explained. "Some are clearly very, very well resourced and have incredible wealthy backers. Others don't. So my simple point was that programs that can afford to pay rent should be paying rent. We certainly need the resources in terms of our public budget. Those that are less resourced should not have to pay rent. But the notion that it's one size fits all, regardless of the resources of the charter school, makes no sense to me."

He said he would like to see charter schools educating a larger share of children with special needs and English-language learners.

2. A poll says:

The poll, out today from the Quinnipiac Polling Institute, finds that 47 percent of New Yorkers think charter schools should be required to pay rent, while 43 percent say the schools should be able to operate in public space rent-free and 10 percent said they did not know what they thought.

3. But charter school leaders, including the indefatiguable Eva Moskowitz, organized a pretty impressive march to protest the idea of charging rent. 

Now what? 

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For the record, I don't think NYC should change the current policy, which is no public schools are charged "rent" by the city, whether traditional or charter. 

Here in Boston, there is no co-location of traditional and charter schools in the same building.  Thanks to some improvements in the district-charter relationship, we recently went from no empty buildings rented to charters to a few being rented to charters. 

So we have a crazy status quo. 

The Boston school district will soon build a $261 million high school for 1,360 students.  Meanwhile, all of the charter schools in Boston, taken together and educating over 7,000 kids, don't spend anything close to that amount for our facilities. 

The Boston schools which raise kids up the most -- a Stanford University study found that Boston charters are highest performing public schools in America they've ever measured (higher than any other city's charter schools, or any city's traditional schools) -- get the least for facilities.  

I don't think it's a great idea, policy-wise, for NYC to go down a similar road. 

But we all know policy doesn't win the day much of the time.  There's the matter of political judgment for NYC's new mayor.  There are 3 options:

1. Mayor keeps status quo.  Avoids a fight.  Would be perceived as a charter win.  Would irritate the teachers union and other opponents of charters. 

2. Mayor begins an anti-charter effort of rent and quotas.  Two scenarios here.  He gets it done, pays his political debt, absorbs some hostile editorials, and moves on.  The other scenario is he triggers an Army of Davids -- would the people who run these charter schools choose to fight back at some never before seen level.  Charter leaders could take their 80 hour a week school lives, and instead create a 60 hour a week running the school and 20 hour a week opposing the Mayor.  Imagine 100 of these people, with  high social capital, who are good at ops, decent at p.r., who can raise money....could they cobble together enough slingshots to really cause political pain to the Mayor?  The free-rider issue looms, which makes all types of political organizing hard.

3. Negotiated cease-fire.  I'm not sure if the new Mayor will look for such a outcome, but if he does, I could imagine one that has two parts:

a. Smart cap.  Mayor would say:

"I'm borrowing Governor Deval Patrick's Massachusetts 2010 law called the Achievement Gap Act.  It created what is called a smart cap on charter schools there.  Most of the new charters we approve in NYC will be those with currently with a great track record and who want to expand.  We'll still permit some "Brand new charters" without a track record to foster innovation, but not as many.  As part of the new charter school review, we'll increased a focus on marketing outreach to special education students and English Language Learners.  Still, just the deal negotiated by the Governor, charters, and teachers union in Massachuestts, no hard quotas on labeling students as special ed or English Language Learners -- that would be counterproductive. 

b. Rent from charters yes -- but the money is paid directly to the incumbent co-located individual traditional school, not to Downtown.  

"Four percent of charter funds will go for rent in any district-owned building.  ALL of this rent goes directly to the co-located district-run schools.  That is, an NYC charter with an $8 million budget would pay rent of $320,000 per year to the co-located school.  That money can be used flexibly for educational trips, art and music and technology supplies, sports programs, improving the physical space, tutoring, etc.  Those funds must be clearly published and attributed to 'rent from the charter school.'  And none of these funds can be used to pay full-time staff.

....What I'm trying to do here is obvious.  First, I want some "fair share" payment by charter schools.  It's true that other public schools don't pay rent, but it's also true that charters have certain advantages from flexibility.  One size does not fit all.  Second, I want that rent to be fair....and so I'm doing it on a per-pupil basis.  A tiny charter would pay $100,000 per year.  A large charer would pay $500,000 per year.  Third, and most of all, I want to reduce the bickering between charters and traditional schools.  I could imagine a scenario where, and my free market friends at the NY Post might like this, traditional schools end up CLAMORING for charter schools to co-locate (because of the hundreds of thousands in flexible funds to improve their own schools), rather than fight against the co-location proposal.  If that were to happen, new charter schools could be co-located in "willing" district schools, and the practice of 'forcible' co-location would dry up."

We shall see.  Boston elects our new mayor the same day.  Both are pro-charter.  I wonder what changes, if any, are in store.