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UFT And Elected Officials: Charter Schools Must Be Public Schools, Serving All Students

With growing appeals for changes in New York’s charter school law, prominent elected officials joined the United Federation of Teachers today in a call for major reforms which would ensure that charter schools become public schools in the fullest meaning of the term — not private schools supported with public funds.

State Senator John Sampson, leader of the Senate’s majority Democratic Conference, and New York City Comptroller John Liu joined UFT President Michael Mulgrew in this call. State Senators Eric Schneiderman and Toby Stavisky and State Assembly members Michael Benedetto, Alan Maisel, Jose Peralta, Adam Clayton Powell, IV and Linda Rosenthal were present and participating in the call.

Among the proposed changes are:

  • a mandate for charter schools to serve the same proportion of the neediest students as the local community district in which they are located;
  • a cap on charter management fees and salaries;
  • a prohibition of ‘for profit’ management and operation of charter schools;
  • full financial and operational transparency for charter schools;
  • common sense fixes to a broken charter funding formula;
  • independent school leadership teams, as well the rights of charter school educators to union representation and the rights of families to independent parent associations;
  • restrictions on the NYC Department of Education’s practice of pitting of district schools against charter schools over space allocations.

These fixes to the law are a necessary and essential component of any change in the law. A complete list of the reforms proposed for the charter school law are included in the report prepared by the UFT and published today, Separate and Unequal: The Failure of New York City Charter Schools to Serve the City’s Neediest Students.

“Charter schools represent an experiment in pursuit of excellence, and we all applaud that intention,” Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson said.  “But in these tough economic times, those of us in government must demand and extract greater accountability and transparency from every dollar we invest, especially in support of our great asset — the education of our children.”

“The discussion of charter school must be honest. The disparities [in the numbers of high needs students and English Language Learners] raise a great deal of concern,” Comptroller John Liu said. “We have limited resources for public education, they must be going to the classrooms and serving kids, not lining corporate pockets.”

Separate and Unequal documents the need for these reforms. The report shows that taken as a group, New York City charter schools are failing to educate their fair share of low-income [free lunch] students, English Language Learners and Special Education students. Charter schools enroll a much smaller proportion of those students than their local community school district — despite the fact that the existing act explicitly mentions the education of at risk students as one of the purposes of charter schools. Such a pattern means that the students with the greatest needs do not have an equal opportunity to attend charter schools in New York City. While a minority of charter schools — mostly unionized — are making a real effort to serve these students, the great majority are not. Since the charter funding formula is based on the average enrollment of high needs students across the city, the report concludes,  the great majority of charter schools are being funded for students they don’t actually serve.

Separate and Unequal also documents exorbitant charter management fees and inflated charter management salaries, far in excess of school district overhead and salaries, that divert public funds from schools and students. Some of the most egregious cases are those involving for-profit management companies.

It is important that charter schools be treated fairly by the law, and the reforms designed to fix the broken charter funding formula are intended to do precisely that. Where charter schools have legitimate complaints about funding, such as the current lengthy two year lag, a proposal is being made to shorten this time period. For schools whose educators participate in the Teachers Retirement System, a reform would remove pensions from the funding formula, with the cost assumed by the local school district. And to ensure fairness among different charter schools, funding for the neediest students such as English Language Learners, Special Education students and free lunch students would be done on an actual per capita basis.

“New York’s charter school experiment has led to some promising innovations, but as a group New York City charter schools have become a separate and unequal branch of public education, working with a far smaller proportion of our neediest students than the average public school,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.

“The current law allows charter schools to operate without the transparency in their finances and operations that officials and the public need to judge their success;  it also permits charters to become profit centers, paying inappropriate salaries and outsize management fees.  Until all these issues are addressed, we are urging the Legislature not to consider any other action on charter schools, including the potential lifting of the charter school cap.”

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10 Comments:

  • 1 Charter Teacher
    · Jan 3, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    This is a very smart move by the UFT. Charter management has gotten away with snubbing their noses at any semblance of accountability for years.

  • 2 Thomas Carroll
    · Jan 3, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    Leo,

    Hard to know where to start.

    For starters, hard to believe the UFT’s oft-stated claim to be open to charter schools after reading this report and the set of proposals contained within.

    Charter schools were intended to be an alternative way to run and operate public schools. In New York City, their track record is quite good.

    We should try to build on this success and help charters reach more students without trying to make charter schools more like failed district schools.

    We could work together to identify ways, for example, to have charter schools reach more special-education students without imposing quotas (tied to the district average) that the UFT’s own charter school does not meet and that many district schools do not. After all, a district average does not mean every district school hits the same numbers.

    The proposal for automatic unionization contradicts the UFT’s long held concern for a “teachers voice,” which you now interpret to be defined as compulsory unionization, paying the UFT dues whether the teachers want your representation or not.

    For the UFT to call for eliminating SUNY as a chartering entity is especially ironic since Randi Weingarten filed her charter application with SUNY because she thought they were a higher-quality authorizer than the Regents, a point she made in my presence.

    In recent years, under Randi Weingarten’s leadership, the UFT has contributed intelligently to the discourse on education in New York. This current report, prepared under the new leadership, frankly is a hatchet job: distorted, tortured use of data; snide proposals; and very little constructive, positive advice.

    I am a charter advocate, as you know. But, I agree that charter schools can do even better, and should not rest on their laurels.

    This report misses the opportunity to address real issues substantively, instead producing a report that may help Michael Mulgrew get re-elected but won’t contribute to a meaningful dialogue.

    I have come to expect more of the UFT, even when we disagree.

    At least, the new UFT has shown its hand, which will be useful on many levels.

    All the best,

    Tom Carroll, President
    Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability

  • 3 Jason Blonstein
    · Jan 4, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I am not familiar with “…some promising innovations…” that some charter schools have claimed as their own. If we are familiar with the history of education in New York City, a familiarity which is difficult to obtain due to the lack of institutional memory of the school system, and of our union, we would know that most if not all of the “innovations” were done in either public alternative schools or in the more progressive districts such as the old Districts 2 and 4, the Astor program in Brooklyn, among others that I know of firsthand.
    While I admire those charter schools that choose and enact their strategies well, whether original or not, Mr. Mulgrew is right to point to several unfair and unequal practices in them. Not only are special education and second language learner students systematically underrepresented in charter schools; the stark overpayment of administrators-and often cavalier treatment of teachers- call for more oversight, “transparency”, if you will.
    Competition can be a good thing for the public schools; collaboration with charter schools, those deemed successful by the parents and kids, teachers and administrators, university researchers and media investigators, is a necessary partner to healthy competition. Public schools, charter or not, deserve the close attention that even a large central administration cannot possibly provide. Mr. Mulgrew should be proud of his reasoned efforts to bring attention to the improvement of pubic education.

  • 4 Leo Casey
    · Jan 4, 2010 at 11:12 pm

    Tom:

    Nice of you to take a little sabbatical from your weekly anti-UFT column on the op-ed page of the Daily News to visit us here at Edwize. We would have to be awfully credulous to take your comments at face value, given your regular attacks on teachers and unions on every conceivable issue.

    So just a few questions…

    If charters have anything like the success you claim for them, then why shouldn’t they be serving the neediest students, who would benefit most? If the problem were simply that individual schools vary from the average, then at the end of day, the district schools and the charter schools would have same percentages of English Language Learners, Special Education students and students receiving free lunch. The fact is that while a small minority of charters — mostly unionized — do their fare share, the great majority come nowhere near serving the same numbers of the neediest students, and that needs to change. What would you do to effectuate that change?

    Do you support our proposed funding reform that would have the money follow the student, and finance charter schools based on the actual numbers of free lunch, English Language Learner and Special Education students they educate? If not, why not?

    Are you saying that educating the same numbers of the neediest students would make charter schools into “failed district schools?” If the path to success lies with avoiding needy students, who needs charter schools to get there? Schools have always been “successful” when they exclude at risk students.

    If you support the right of teachers to have a union, then what is your position on charter schools that hire union-busting law firms to thwart the clearly expressed sentiment of teachers that they want a union and a contract?

    Do you think that charter school management companies should be able to take for themselves millions and millions of dollars — 25¢ on every dollar — of public funds intended for classrooms and students?

    Do you think that charter school executives who manage a handful of schools should earn salaries double and triple that of the Chancellor of the NYC DoE, who manages 1400 schools?

    Why do you ignore the changes that we proposed to fix the broken charter school formula, such as shortening the funding lag and removing pensions from the funding formula?

    I could go on, but let’s stop there.

  • 5 Thomas W. Carroll
    · Jan 6, 2010 at 8:16 am

    Leo,

    1. Although I have disagreed with the UFT on charter schools, merit pay, rubber rooms, the ATR issue, and archaic elements of the teacher contract, you should not equate this with being anti-union or anti-UFT. These are topics on which reasonable people can disagree. And, by the way, I don’t write a weekly column for the Daily News, having written for them only two or three times in my life.

    2. You state: “If charters have anything like the success you claim for them, then why shouldn’t they be serving the neediest students, who would benefit most?” They do. Charters serve a disproportionate number of African Americans, Latinos, and the economically disadvantaged.

    3. On special education and ELL, some charters serve less than the local district average. Among charters that do so are the UFT’s own charter school. I don’t think there is anything necessarily nefarious going on at the UFT charter school, but agree that we should figure out a way to increase their SPED and ELL numbers along with other schools that under-serve those populations. I have a number of ideas, which will be posted soon on my own blog at http://www.nyfera.org.

    4. I would support funding reform that provided additional dollars for charter schools that serve more students needing special-education or ELL services. However, please clarify whether the UFT is simply proposing reallocating the existing amount of dollars that charters receive, which would be less interesting since the base level of charter-school funding is too low, especially in New York City. Generally, charter schools are receiving about two-thirds of the per-pupil funding received by districts.

    5. You keep saying that charter schools exclude “at risk students,” but this simply isn’t true. Some categories of at-risk students are over-represented, others less. I agree on the need to work on the latter, but think you need not overstate your case to make this point.

    6. I do support “the right of teachers” to decide whether they want a union or not. The existing charter-school law allows teachers – not the state legislature or the UFT – to make that determination for teachers at each school. Some charter-school teachers have chosen unions, others have kicked them out. That shows that the law is balanced and fair. This approach certainly is fairer than the UFT proposal which would have the state legislature force every teacher in the state automatically into a union whether they want one or not, a proposal that certainly does not respect “teacher voice.”

    7. As for which law firms some charter schools have hired, I frankly I have no issue there at all. It’s a free country. The real issue is whether either side is engaging in an unfair practice. I am not aware of any law firm that would encourage their clients – labor or management – to violate the substantial protections afforded by the state’s Taylor Law.

    8. As for the various compensation issues you raise, we simply have a different philosophy. In my view, anyone who is able to educate students to high levels – an all too rare accomplishment in this City — deserves to be compensated handsomely. And that includes teachers, school leaders, heads of nonprofit charter networks, and management firms.

    9. I don’t agree with using the Chancellor’s salary as a benchmark for other’s compensation because he is outrageously underpaid for the responsibilities he has and for the job he has done.

    10. On your funding formula changes, offer me some more details on exactly what you propose and I would be happy to comment. For example, would the money for pensions be additional money or taken from other charter schools? As for the funding lag, you don’t indicate specifically how you would adjust the lag. The fact that the UFT only raises this issue in a time of cuts raises some suspicions, but I am open to discussing this further, subject to details.

    11. The bigger issue, which you don’t address, is funding parity. When a child switches from a district school to a charter school, the amount of per pupil dollars put towards their educations drops by about one-third – effectively a financial penalty for choosing a charter school. That simply is not fair.

    Hope these answers clarify. I think this is a useful dialogue.

    All the best,

    Tom Carroll
    President
    Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability
    http://www.nyfera.org

  • 6 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Jan 10, 2010 at 8:05 am

    It has been said:”If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”

    Please contact your NYS Legislators. Visit: http://petitions.uft.org/tell_albany_to_fix_the_charter_school_law

    Dear New York State Legislators:

    As a committed public school educator, I urge you to fix the state charter school law before you consider any increase to the cap on the number of charter schools.

    Charter schools must not be private schools, funded with public money, as the current law allows. They must be public schools in the fullest meaning of the term. They need to serve ALL children, especially special education children and English Language learners. They need to be transparent in their finances, operations and governance. They need to be held accountable for the performance of their students in the same way that our district schools are. And they need to give voice to parents and teachers in their decision-making, including the right to organize and bargain collectively.

    It is time to stop pitting charter schools against district schools. If you truly want what is best for children, please focus on ensuring that ALL public school children in New York State receive a quality education and opportunities to succeed. That means smaller class sizes, quality teachers, access to after-school programs and tutoring, arts and music, social services and decent facilities.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Sincerely,

    Phyllis C. Murray

    cc

    Governor David Paterson
    State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer
    State Senator Jeffrey Klein
    State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins
    State Assembly Member Amy Paulin
    State Assembly Member Adam T. Bradley
    State Assembly Member George Latimer
    State Assembly Member Richard Brodsky
    State Assembly Member Michael Spano

  • 7 Leo Casey
    · Jan 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Tom:

    1. That’s an interesting characterization, given that today you are back on the op-ed page of the Daily News once again attacking the UFT. Could you cite an example of something you wrote, in your Daily News columns or elsewhere, where you take a position that is in support of a teacher’s union or New York City teachers? You are a publicist with a prodigious output so there is a possibility that I missed an occasion when you did so.

    2. The issue is not whether NYC charter schools include among their number some of the neediest students, but whether they are educating the same share of those students as schools in the local Community School District from which they draw. The evidence we presented in our report, taken straight from official NYC and NYS documents, is that they do not serve the same share. I have seen attempts to explain away that data, such as that of Marcus Winters in the NY Post, but nothing that disputes its accuracy. You will have to provide something more than the simple assertion that charter schools are serving a disproportionate number here.

    3. The facts presented by our report is that most NYC charters serve considerably lower proportions of low income students, English Language Learners and Special Education students. It is a small minority of charters that are close to the district averages, which is why the charter averages are quite below the district averages.

    4. That this pattern exists is clear. The reasons for it are complex. Some of it is that in any system of unregulated school choice, parents with greater social and cultural capital [knowledge of how the system works and how to find the better schools for their children, and the access to the system] are going to be disproportionately represented in the ranks of schools which require applications, as charters do. Lower income parents, immigrant parents of English Language Learners, and parents of Special Education students are going to be underrepresented in those same ranks. Some of it is marketing — a lottery is going to reflect the pool of applicants, not the pool of potential applicants, so if you market a school to the more upscale parents, you will get a student body which reflects this reality. Similarly, if you market only in English, you will not be communicating with immigrant parents speaking a different language. Some of it involves the conditions and demands put upon parents by their school to have their children attend. Low income parents working more than one job to make ends meet will find it harder to meet such conditions. And some of it happens when schools counsel out high needs students who get through the lottery — “we are very sorry, but we don’t have the special education services your son needs.” In short, there are structural issues which can only be fixed with systemic regulation, sins of omission and sins of commission. The bottom line is that after ten years of NYC charter schools, they all combine in a system that is not delivering the results it promised — that charter schools would be providing greater services to at risk students. It needs to be fixed to deliver that objective.

    5. Here are the facts about the UFT Charter School. We are in the ranks of the NYC Charter Schools with the greatest numbers of low income [free lunch] students in NYC, and very close to the proportion of free lunch students in the CSD in which we are located. It has not required any special marketing to achieve these portions — simply marketing that does not target more up scale families. Our Special Education numbers are lower than we want. Nonetheless, based on what we do know, we have every reason to believe that our Special Education numbers stack up quite well against those of other charters. [Complete school by school Special Education data for charters is not yet in the public realm, although we have filed FOIL requests to obtain it.] The fact of the matter is that the Special Education services we provide are the most comprehensive of any NYC charter school. That has produced economies of scale issues for us, because it costs the same to provide Special Education services for 4 students in a class as it does for 12 students — even though Special Education services are funded largely on a per student basis. If we had more Special Education students, which we would happily take, we would have more income to support the level of services we provide. On the issue of English Language Learners, we clearly need to improve our outreach to non-English speaking parents. Our situation confirms the analysis I made above. We need to establish regulations which correct for the natural tendency of unfettered markets to draw families with more social and cultural capital, create incentives for marketing to the families of the neediest students, and amend the lottery process to give precedence to the neediest students.

    6/7. When charter school teachers vote to have a union and the board hires a union-busting law firm that drags out negotiations for two year with a contract, as is the case with Merrick Charter School, the law clearly has major shortcomings. There are a number of cases where it has not secured the right of teachers to have a union and bargain collectively, and it needs to change to do that. It is “fair and balanced” the way that Fox News is “fair and balanced.” Freedom is not “the freedom” to deny fundamental rights, including labor rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Rights, by leading human rights organizations and in the New York State Constitution. We don’t let people excuse the denial of freedom of expression and conscience with the cliche that it is a free country, and we shouldn’t allow them to deny labor rights either.

    8/9. I would readily grant your point about compensation if the educators who actually did the work in these charter schools were as handsomely compensated as the management is. But the truth is that in these schools, the compensation package of the educators is less than that provided in NYC DoE educators, while the management earns two and three times what Chancellor Klein does, while managing less than 1% of the number of schools he manages.

    10. On the formula changes, we are suggesting that the money should follow the student. A charter school should receive funds for the actual numbers of low income [free lunch] students, Special Education students and English Language Learners it educates, not on the basis of citywide averages. I imagine that the schools which do the job the law envisioned them doing will receive more funds, and those which do not will receive less funds. And instead of the current disincentives to educate the neediest students — a school receives funds to teach English Language Learners, even if it has not one — we would create incentives to do so.

    We also proposed that the funding lag should be minimized. Is your need to oppose everything that teacher unions propose so great that you can’t even support that? Is having the issue more important to you than fixing the problem?

    11. Again you offer an assertion about funding which is simply not borne out by the facts. We have looked at the question of funding in some detail here at Edwize, and in New York City, where charter schools receive facilities free of charge, there is no meaningful disparity. Indeed, when you see that many charter schools are enjoying windfalls by receiving funding for English Language Learners without teaching any and receiving funding for Teacher Retirement System pensions without providing them, it is arguable that they have more discretionary funding. And NYC DoE schools just took another mid-year cut from the city — did charter schools get a similar cut?

  • 8 Thomas W. Carroll
    · Jan 11, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Leo,

    1. I think you misunderstood my comments on special education. I actually agree that charter schools need to serve more special-education students. We agree on the problem, just not the solution. See my column on this topic on my blog. http://www.nyfera.org/?page_id=38. It’s a serious effort to get to where I think you want to go, without simply declaring that charter schools must meet the district average, an enrollment quota many district schools and the UFT’s own charter school do not meet. I would be interested in your take on my proposals, which are more comprehensive than the union or any charter schools have offered. I am open to other ideas.

    2. The fact that the UFT’s own charter school does not meet the district special ed or ELL average, as you concede, suggests that lower representation does not always equal a nefarious conspiracy to keep out special-education students. As you elaborate, a lot of factors are at work, including the inherent limitations of small schools.

    3. I do not automatically object to anything the UFT proposes. I was simply asking for clarification because some details were missing from your report.

    4. On the issue of funding parity, charter schools that get building deals obviously have less of a funding parity issue. Many charter schools in NYC and elsewhere do not have access to existing space and for them the funding parity issue is more profound.

    5. Because a particular school does not agree to what the UFT has demanded in a particular set of negotiations does not mean the school is union busting. It might just mean they disagree.

    6. On the funding formula, I will respond separately at a later time. Need to check a few things.

    Thanks for answering my questions. Although I don’t always agree, I think I understand your positions better.

    All the best,

    Tom Carroll
    President
    Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability
    http://www.nyfera.org

  • 9 Stacey Gauthier
    · Jan 19, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    As Co-Principal of The Renaissance Charter School in Queens, I am perplexed. The UFT “reforms” are vague and unclear. How do you propose to fix the funding formula exactly? What is the gain to a charter school in giving up a part of its AOE in exchange for the district paying the pension? Maybe I missed something, but I did not see any of this spelled out. In fact, when I contacted the UFT to get clarification I was told to call SED. I would like to think that the unions that represent unionized charter schools really have our best interests at heart and we are not simply the ignored minority voice. I would like to think that the unions that represent unionized charter schools will publicly acknowledge that a second freeze to charter schools is a double cut on top of a double cut and is unfair. I can’t think any of these things because our many offers to talk have been ignored. So, as we said when Assemblyman Peralta visited our school to help us prepare for Charter School Lobby Day, the union may not want to kill us, but we are being shot in the crossfire anyway.

  • 10 al horfort
    · Feb 24, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Tom:
    I am very confused about the subject of “merit pay.” Mayor Bloomberg, along with Chancellor Klein, want teachers to be rewarded if students do well on standardized tests. Likewise, they also want principals to use standardized test scores as one of the measures for which to grant tenure. What about the many teachers who who do not teach a subject for which there is a standardized test such as Art, Phys. Ed, Spanish, dance, Technology, etc..? How will they be rewarded? The only thing you are going to promote is the fact that many teachers are now going to cheat the system by helping some students do better on tests so that they can preserve their jobs. Many people are also going to shy away from teaching the subjects of ELA and Math which are the two subjects for which is causing so much controversy. I’m very surprised that the media is so absent-minded on this issue.