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Charter school set-aside for insiders draws fire

charter-school-set-asideJonathan Fickies“Charter operators can’t publicly claim they are squeezed for space and then behind closed doors bargain for a nepotism provision that allows their children to jump the line,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew at a press conference on City Hall steps.

A new provision in state law that allows charter schools to set aside up to 15 percent of their available seats for children of employees drew fire from UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who said such “nepotism” would result in charters serving even fewer of the city’s neediest children.

Charter school operators have long argued that waiting lists for their schools are proof of the need for more charters, an argument that has helped them to win free rent from New York City and to secure a small increase in June in the cap on the number of charters in New York City.

But the provision that the state Legislature this year quietly added to the charter school law raises questions about just how pressing the need is for additional charter school seats, said Mulgrew at a press conference on City Hall steps on Sept. 28.

With charter schools in the New York City now enrolling about 100,000 students, the set-aside for children of employees of the school or the charter school network would amount to up to 15,000 seats.

Mulgrew called the provision allowing the set-aside “the height of hypocrisy.”

“Charter operators can’t have it both ways,” he said. “They can’t publicly claim they are squeezed for space and then behind closed doors bargain for a nepotism provision that allows their children to jump the line.” 

Mulgrew was joined at the press conference by City Council members, parent leaders and representatives of the NAACP.

Brooklyn City Councilwoman Inez Barron said that the enrollment set-aside is another example of charters “cherry-picking” students.

“Why not set aside seats before the lottery for English language learners and special needs students, instead of counseling them out?” she said.

Brooklyn City Councilman Mark Treyger called on the charters to get rid of their lottery system entirely if they are serious about serving all children. “I’m not going to pit student against student and parent against parent,” he said. “These are all our kids.”

Mulgrew noted that charter schools have never served the same percentage of the neediest children as public schools. He said a set-aside for the mostly middle-class children of charter school employees will mean even fewer charter spots for children who need the most help.

Hazel Dukes, the president of the New York State NAACP, said the focus should be on “educating all children in the city of New York.” 

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