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Despite claims of long waiting lists, charter schools poised to create major set-aside for children of their employees

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New state law allows operators to keep up to 15 percent of seats out of normal student lottery

Influx of middle-class children would boost charter reading scores, which have lagged behind the citywide average, and may be designed to help slow high attrition of charter teachers

Charter school proponents maintain that more than 40,000 children are on waiting lists to attend their schools. However, under a law passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo last spring, charters are poised to change the annual lottery process to set aside a significant number of seats for children of their employees, including employees of charter management organizations.

A clause in the current New York State law creates what amounts to a “Family Plan” for charter employees: “Preference may also be provided to children of employees of the charter school or charter management organization, provided that such children of employees may constitute no more than fifteen percent of the charter school's total enrollment.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said: “So much for the equal access that charters keep boasting about. Charter operators can’t have it both ways. 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.” 

“The city’s charters have never served the same percentage of the neediest children as the public schools, and a set-aside for a group of largely middle-class children will mean even fewer places for kids who need the most help.”

With nearly 100,000 students enrolled in New York City charters, a 15 percent set-aside is the equivalent of thirty 500-seat elementary schools for charter staff families only. If the 15,000 “insider” slots were a stand-alone district, it would be larger than Manhattan’s Community School District 4.

Charter operators claim that the vast majority of their students live in poverty, based on their eligibility for free or-reduced price lunches (the free-lunch income eligibility limit is $25,000 for a family of four, reduced-price eligibility about $44,000). 

Jobs advertised in city charter schools typically pay well over the $44,000-a-year ceiling, and a partial review of charter school tax filings show a total of more than 100 staffers making over $100,000 per year.

These include a total of nearly $2.9 million for leading executives of the Success network, including more than $480,000 for Eva Moskowitz alone; more than $550,000 for Deborah Kenny of Village Academies Network; nearly $330,000 for Jeffrey Litt of Icahn Charter Schools, and $2.3 million for the leaders of KIPP, including $393,000 for chief executive Richard Barth.

At the same time, employment at charter school networks has soared. For example, according to the most recent tax filings available, the workforce of two management organizations alone — Success Network and KIPP — has grown from a total of just over 200 employees to more than 900.

The presence of middle-class students can have a decisive effect on school scores. The most recent New York City results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the “gold standard” of standardized tests, showed that students from families eligible for free or reduced price lunch scored roughly 211 in reading, while city students from families that made $45,000 a year or more scored more than twenty points higher, an average of 235.

New York State reading and math tests are now closely aligned with NAEP scoring standards. The potential result of an infusion of 15,000 middle-class children (15 percent of the roughly 100,000 students now attending city charters) could boost the charter reading score average proficiency — most recently 29.3 percent. This is more than one point lower than the citywide public school average reading proficiency, currently 30.4 percent. 

Despite charter advocates’ claims of success, the charter average proficiency in reading has trailed the citywide public school average since 2013.

Another potential reason for charters’ interest in the insider set-aside may be an effort to retain teachers and other staff. Data from the New York State Education Department shows that charters on average lose one-third of their teachers every year, more than twice the annual attrition rate for public schools. Some charters — notably the Success network — register even higher annual teacher attrition. 

Related Topics: Charter Schools
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