Success Academy Charter Schools opened its long-awaited middle school in South Ozone Park last Monday, earlier than intended and a month before the city’s district public schools.
One would think Success founder Eva Moskowitz might be tempted to declare victory and move on.
Far from it.
“For me, the No. 1 education public policy issue that the city is facing is that we have zero [new charter openings] left in the city,” Moskowitz told the Chronicle last week in an online interview.
While charters are legally public schools, they are largely exempt from many regulations, including teacher union work rules.
A total of 460 charters are allowed in the state, including 50 in New York City under legislation passed in 2015, the last time the Legislature lifted the charter school cap.
And while 94 charter slots in the state remain unfilled, none are available in New York City, where Moskowitz says the demand has increased exponentially in recent years.
“The charter sector in New York City is extremely high-performing,” she said. “Naturally, there are some that are good and some that are not so good. But as a sector, it is the highest performing sector in the nation. The taxpayers — I don’t love this — but the taxpayers are paying less money per pupil in the charters than in the districts. Wouldn’t you want a cost-effective, high-performing sector to continue? But unfortunately, we’ve run out of charters in New York City.”
Two of charters’ most vocal critics in the state are Mayor de Blasio — a frequent Moskowitz sparring partner — and the United Federation of Teachers, the union representing most New York City educators.
They and others say charters simply divert education funding that is needed elsewhere. They also have accused charters of practices such as cherry-picking high-performing students at the expense of special-needs and other students.
Moskowitz said in her perfect world the charter cap would be ended, though from a political standpoint in Albany it might be more realistic to try and get some of the 94 open charters transferred to the city.
And she said time is of the essence.
“If zero charters in New York City becomes the new normal, it will become very difficult to raise the cap,” she said.
It has been raised in 2007 and 2010 as well as 2015.
She said Gov. Cuomo in the past has supported charters, though the interview took place five days before a potentially damning report on sexual harassment allegations gave him other things on which to focus his attention.
The state Assembly, she added, always has been a tougher sell than the state Senate. As for mayoral candidates, she said Democrat Eric Adams has been supportive in the past, though the Chronicle could find no specific mention of charters on his campaign website and the campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Republican Curtis Sliwa’s website says he will work to increase the number of charters.
Queenswide, Moskowitz said the political landscape has gone from hostile to at least neutral on the charter matter, crediting parents who are fed up with the status quo and letting their elected officials know about it.
She said demand in Queens now exceeds that of the Bronx, she said which had the highest demand for years.
“Queens has voted with its feet in a very dramatic way on charters,” she said. “Most of our parents were district parents. They have very concrete beliefs about violence, chaos, being told by an educator that their child is stupid. They have very good examples of what didn’t work for them.
“And I think it’s very hard for politicians to dismiss their stories. They can dismiss me and my motivations — I think unfairly — but I think it’s very hard to dismiss a parent with direct experience.”