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17 Charter Schools Approved for New York City, Expanding a Polarizing Network

The New York Times
October 8, 2014

By Kate Taylor

The state approved 17 new charter schools for New York City on Wednesday, substantially increasing the size of one of the city’s largest and most polarizing charter networks, Success Academy, and setting up a battle over where the schools will be located.

The state’s charter schools committee, part of the State University of New York’s board of trustees, approved 14 new Success Academy schools, which will bring the network to a total of 50 schools serving 16,300 students by 2016, the network said. The new schools would begin with kindergarten and first grade, and then grow each year as new grades are added. Three new Achievement First charter schools were also approved.

“I’ve talked to a lot of parents, and the one thing that I am convinced of is that the parents in the communities where these schools are do not care about the politics of this issue,” said Joseph W. Belluck, the committee chairman. “They want their kids to have good schools, and they want their kids to have a good education.”

While the state approves the creation of these institutions, it is up to New York City to decide where to put them. Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools, eagerly offered free space inside public school buildings, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has indicated that his administration would take a different approach. A new state law championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo forces the city to give new charter schools free space or to help pay their rent in private space, but if a deal cannot be reached, the issue could go to court.

The new Success charters are approved for Districts 2 and 3 in Manhattan; 9 in the Bronx; 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 22, and 23 in Brooklyn; and 24, 27, 28 and 30 in Queens.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Success Academy’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz, winked at the negotiations — and, possibly, the court battles — that are to come.

“We look forward to working with the Department of Education to identify appropriate locations so that these schools can open and more children have an opportunity to receive the high-quality education they want and deserve,” Ms. Moskowitz said.

Charter schools receive public money but operate independently of the larger school system — and they attract vigorous, often vitriolic debate in New York City.

Supporters point to the greater flexibility in staffing and scheduling that the schools are allowed, and to the high performance of certain networks. Students at Success schools, for example, routinely outperform those in other schools on state tests. Many parents, especially in districts where public schools perform very poorly, are eager to send their children to more rigorous classrooms. Several thousand parents and students, many of them having been let out of school for the morning from the Success network, rallied in Lower Manhattan last week to press for charter-friendly policies.

But at recent public meetings before the decision on Wednesday, many charter school detractors shared their objections.

About two dozen people went to a hearing in Brooklyn at the end of September, held at Public School 133 in Boerum Hill. All of the speakers, including teachers in local district schools and a representative for City Councilman Brad Lander, voiced their opposition to opening new Success Academy schools in their areas.

Some cited limited space or competition for funding, and said that charters drew the most involved families, leaving more difficult students in the district schools. Others said Ms. Moskowitz and her donors intended to privatize the public schools. One teacher wore a witch’s hat and a mask of Ms. Moskowitz’s face.

“For the record, everyone here spoke against — no one spoke for — and I’m going to be really shocked to find out that they approved this application,” said David Goldsmith, president of the community education council for District 13 in Brooklyn. “Thanks for caring, Albany,” he added.

Success Academy declined to make a presentation. However, several people, including some who said they were parents of Success children, spoke in favor of the expansion at another hearing, in Manhattan, saying they had seen their children do well in school and that demand for seats was high.