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The UFT has from its founding demanded the high-quality public education system that our students and communities deserve. Albert Shanker, the late UFT and AFT president and a staunch advocate for students, envisioned charter schools as laboratories for experimenting with new methods that, if successful, could be replicated broadly in public schools. The UFT stands by this original conception of charters as teacher-led schools that welcome all students including those with the highest needs.
Our union represents faculty and staff at more than 20 charter schools and supports the organizing efforts of New York City’s charter educators through the UFT Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (UFT ACTS). These educators organized unions because they want teacher voice, accountability and transparency. The UFT demands that all charters schools uphold these principles.
Unfortunately, some leaders in the corporate education reform movement have hijacked much of the charter school industry both to profit from and undermine public education. They use charter schools to compete against − rather than collaborate with − district public schools.
Charter schools are not held to the same standards of fairness, student access, accountability and financial transparency as public schools, which hurts students in both charter and public schools and does a disservice to the taxpaying public.
Among our concerns:
- Co-location and the cost of space for charters: Former Mayor Bloomberg’s co-location of charter schools in public school buildings has caused many public schools to lose critically needed space previously used for art, music or other enrichment and for counseling and other crucial student services. Mayor de Blasio has had little choice but to follow the policies of his predecessor. A 2014 state law pushed by Gov. Cuomo requires the city either to provide new and expanded charter schools with free space inside public school buildings or pay rent for private space − even for those charters that bring in millions in Wall Street donations and could easily afford their own rent. This unjust situation hurts public school students and drains money from our already underfunded public school system.
- Financial transparency: Charter schools receive taxpayer funding yet are not subject to the same oversight or public audit requirements as public schools. Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter organization, spent $9.7 million on charter school advocacy in 2014, but it doesn’t have to disclose a single benefactor. Charter schools and their lobbying arms should be required to itemize their financial support.
- Equity in student demographics: Charter schools do not enroll and retain the same percentage of high-needs students as neighborhood public schools, according to a 2015 UFT research report. When district schools have spaces available from other students transferring out, they routinely bring in other students. Some charters fail to fill vacated seats, a passive form of student selection. Charter schools take public money; they should open their doors to all students, including English language learners and those with disabilities.
- Discipline and suspension: More than half of New York City charter schools permit the suspension or expulsion of students for any infraction of the school’s discipline code, no matter how minor, according to a 2015 report by Advocates for Children. Many charter schools, in particular the larger chains, suspend students at rates well in excess of their home-district averages, according to an analysis by Chalkbeat. Charter schools should have to follow the same federal, state, and city regulations on student discipline as neighborhood public schools.
- Unfilled seats: New York City charter schools lose on average 6 to 11 percent of students each year across grades, according to an analysis by Democracy Builders, a pro-charter advocacy group. At Success Academy charter schools, about 800 seats have remained empty since 2009. This leaves thousands of unfilled seats, which many charter schools allow to remain empty rather than filling them with new students. As a result, their student cohorts become smaller over time, and as the number of struggling students goes down, the average reading and math scores of each class go up. Charter schools that refuse to fill empty seats should not be rewarded with more space in public school buildings.
Resolutions, Testimony, and Reports