A little-noticed clause that state legislators tucked into the omnibus bill that ended the legislative session in June could make the already glaring inequities between charter and traditional public schools even worse.
The provision allows charter schools to take up to 15 percent of their available student seats out of the admissions lottery and give them to children of employees of the school or the charter’s management network.
With New York City’s charters now enrolling nearly 100,000 students, a 15 percent reserve is equivalent to thirty 500-seat schools for charter staff’s families only.
The city’s public schools have no such set-aside for children of teachers, administrators and other employees, whose families follow the same enrollment rules as everyone else.
The most serious concern is that the enrollment set-aside could further skew the difference between the student populations of charter schools and neighboring public schools.
Charter schools claim they are open to all comers. The assertion strains credibility when you consider that many charters educate far fewer high-need students than traditional public schools. Many also fail to fill empty seats when students transfer out, which leaves the schools with a smaller group of likely higher-achieving students to educate.
Now, if charters fill seats with children of their staff, they will no doubt be increasing their enrollment of middle-class students. Jobs advertised for city charter schools typically pay well over $44,000 a year, the cutoff for a family of four to qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. And, financial documents for some charter chains — KIPP, Uncommon Network, Icahn, Success Academy and Achievement First — show more than 100 staffers making over $100,000 per year.
Middle-class students in the city scored on average 20 points higher on the most recent National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) than students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The enrollment of more middle-class children may boost charter schools’ average reading scores, which since 2013 have lagged behind the citywide average.
The end result of this nepotism clause is that charter schools will now have even fewer places for the children with the greatest needs.
Charter schools receive public funds. They should serve the public.