The city Department of Education released its five-year capital plan last week, the first under Mayor de Blasio, that shifts $210 million in charter school funds to other priorities, including expanding pre-K.
The proposed budget, which is slated to be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy in March, would boost capital spending for schools by $800 million to $12.8 billion.
“These revisions will help us create high-quality, full-day prekindergarten seats citywide that will deliver strong instruction,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fari–a said in a statement. “The changes also will add seats to reduce class size among all grade levels — a longstanding and high-priority issue for communities throughout the city.”
The plan is to use the $210 million — as well as $800 million in state funds — to help add 2,100 new full-day pre-K seats. Fari–a said the additional money would also add 4,900 other new seats to the school system, as well as fund capital projects including new technology.
The $210 million that will be removed from charter schools would have funded construction and renovation of buildings to be leased.
On “The Brian Lehrer Show” on Monday, de Blasio specifically noted the overcrowding situation in Central Queens, along with the North Shore of Staten Island and Lower Manhattan as the top priorities.
Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, the regional advocacy organization for the more than 200 charter schools in New York and Connecticut, said the decision would cause “educational homelessness” among charter schools.
“Today’s actions will only deepen the inequality faced by charter students: They receive virtually zero facilities funds from the state and drastically less per-pupil funding than their friends and neighbors who attend district schools,” Phillips said in a statement last Friday. “If the de Blasio administration takes away funding for construction along with access to vacant space in public school buildings, the cold hard reality is that tens of thousands of New York City students will be denied a chance for a better education.”
Some critics say the cut in capital funds could mean charter schools co-located, with traditional schools until a separate space or building opens up could be indefinite.
Nevertheless, the decision was praised by leaders in the borough’s two most overcrowded school districts.
Nick Comaianni, president of the Community Education Council in District 24, which includes Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village and Corona, said he thinks the reallocation of money from charter schools to public schools is a “great idea.”
“We should definitely focus on fixing the existing schools,” he said. “I think District 24 should get our fair share of seats,”
He warned, however, that the district does not have the room for pre-K unless more schools are built or expanded, even noting that some schools were forced to cut preschool because of overcrowding.
“We don’t have room for pre-K,” he said. “Not because we don’t want it — it’s a great idea and I would love to have room — but we don’t have the seats”
Isaac Carmignani, president of the Community Education Council in District 30, said he is “ecstatic” to hear of the funding change.
“There are a lot of people I talk to who say it’s a good sign of where Mayor de Blasio’s priorities lie,” he said.
Carmignani noted that he thinks charter schools have helped overcrowding in District 30, which includes Astoria and Jackson Heights, but said they often drain funds from struggling traditional schools.
“They can easily pull resources from borderline schools and that’s not good,” he said.
As for new school locations and space for pre-K, Carmignani said he believes District 30 could handle the increased space needed for pre-K and would be able to find room for more seats. He suggested that the School Construction Authority needs to “get creative,” especially with old warehouses and storage buildings that are common in District 30 neighborhoods.
The overall plan calls for roughly $4.4 billion for capacity projects, such as new seats; $4.9 billion for other capital investment which includes upgrades to technology, bathrooms, physical fitness space and science labs; and $3.5 billion for programs such as replacement of light fixtures containing PCBs, building code compliance projects and insurance. The DOE said the plan will add 32,560 new seats.
The PEP is scheduled to vote on the plan on March 18. The public can comment on the plan until March 17 firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 374-6853.