Success Academy Families Fight Back at Threat to High-Quality Pre-K
Success Academy – October 29, 2015
Brian Whitley, 510-495-5542
Ann Powell, 646-894-6407
SUCCESS ACADEMY FAMILIES FIGHT BACK AT THREAT TO HIGH-QUALITY PRE-K
City Withholding Funds to Force Charter Schools to Sign Contract That Violates Law
Parents Join Lawsuit, Hold Press Conference to Demand Mayor Put Kids’ Interests First
NEW YORK, NY – Today, parents of Success Academy pre-k students announced they will file a lawsuit to fight New York City’s decision to withhold funding for their children’s pre-k classes. Under New York State law, charter schools are monitored and reviewed by their authorizers, not the Department of Education. Yet the DOE has demanded that Success Academy and other charter schools with pre-k grades sign a contract in violation of this law, and the city is withholding funds as a result. The de Blasio administration, which claims to be supportive of charter schools, has struggled with the notion that less regulation is what fuels the success of so many of these independently operated schools.
Success Academy has requested that the DOE modify the boilerplate language in the agreement to conform with state law. The DOE has refused and is withholding funds legally owed for operation of the pre-k grades. Three Success Academy schools are at risk of losing their pre-k grades: Success Academy Harlem 1, Success Academy Williamsburg, and Success Academy Cobble Hill. Without basic funding, which all other pre-k children receive from the city, Success Academy may not be able to continue its high-quality pre-k grades, putting 72 children who are currently enrolled in danger of losing educational opportunity.
Success Academy and 24 parent plaintiffs are appealing to the New York State Commissioner of Education, charging the New York City Department of Education with violating New York State Education Law § 3602-ee. Other charter schools, including the Achievement First and Public Prep networks, have sent affidavits in support of the lawsuit.
“The mayor just doesn’t get the charter school concept. It’s about doing things differently, about fresh approaches to helping kids learn and grow, not foisting on schools a 241-page contract that tries to dictate how our pre-k is run the way the UFT contract dictates how the district schools are run,” said Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz.
“We were thrilled as a public charter school to finally be given the right to run a high-quality UPK, and bring all the innovations to enhance the education of young learners,” said Ian Rowe, CEO of the Public Prep charter school network. “But this contract, including provisions such as mandated curriculum or limited exposure to technology, suppresses the very innovations our kids need to thrive.”
“Universal pre-k was Mayor de Blasio’s signature program, but this contract is just another example of the way in which the city (the mayor) throws obstacles at charters,” said Jacob Mnookin, executive director of Coney Island Preparatory Public Charter School.
Pre-kindergarten was the focal point of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s election campaign, and state law was changed specifically to allow charters to provide pre-K grades. Charter schools, which predominantly serve children of color in low-income neighborhoods, were eager to open pre-K grades to give children from underserved communities an early start on their education.
Since Success Academy introduced pre-K, the demand has been enormous. Last year, Success Academy received more than 47 applications for every available pre-K seat — but the network currently is able to offer pre-K at only three of its 24 elementary schools. Although Mayor de Blasio has promoted pre-K for all, he has not supported pre-K for charter school families by providing the additional classrooms needed to meet parent demand. In fact, Success Academy had to sue the city earlier this year to get pre-K space for its Cobble Hill and Williamsburg schools.
And now, despite the willingness of charter schools to advance this key piece of the mayor’s education agenda, the DOE is placing more obstacles in the way of charters like Success Academy that are seeking to provide pre-k to their families.
“Success Academy may have to shut down my daughter’s pre-k class if the city does not give them the funds,” said Jesus Hernandez, a Harlem resident. “If her pre-k closed, the impact would be terrible for my family. It is wrong for the city to play politics with my daughter’s education. As a father, I want what is best for my child. It is wrong for the city to try to take that away.
The DOE’s 38-page, single-spaced contract would give the city extraordinary and unprecedented authority over the operation of charter schools’ pre-K grades – authority that, under state law, is reserved exclusively for charter school authorizers. In Success Academy’s case, the charter authorizer is the State University of New York.
As written, the contract would strip charters of the freedom and creativity that have enabled charter schools in New York City to achieve extraordinary outcomes for children. (Although DOE authorizes and regulates 67 charter schools, most, including Success Academy, are not monitored by the DOE.) Among the many ways the contract over-reaches:
- It strips charters of their autonomy over curriculum and activities: The DOE reserves the right to implement its own curriculum and choice of activities at any time and without any consultation or notice to charters.
- It regulates the school day down to the minute: One example is that kids may not spend more than 15 minutes per day using any kind of technology, including SMART boards.
- It arbitrarily vetoes field trips: Children may not go on more than 3 field trips “involving transportation” each year, and none before January 1, even if these are well-planned, enriching experiences.
By signing the contract, Success Academy would hand authority over curricula, operations, finances, training, planning, family engagement, and personnel to a city agency with a history of prioritizing the interests of bureaucracy over the interests of children.
ABOUT SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOLS
Founded in 2006, Success Academy Charter Schools are free public pre-K through 12 schools open to all children in the state through a random lottery. With 34 schools across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, Success Academy enrolls 11,000 students, primarily low-income children of color in disadvantaged neighborhoods: 77% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch, 95% are children of color, 12% are children with disabilities, and 8.5% are English language learners. Ranked in the top 1% in math and the top 3% in English on 2015 state proficiency tests, Success Academy schools received more than 22,000 applications for fewer than 2,300 open seats this year.
On Twitter at: @SuccessCharters