Don’t let UFT fearmongering strangle good new public schools in the cradle
Fresh off keeping most students stuck doing remote “learning” for two years, the United Federation of Teachers is laser-focused on stopping plans to offer more city kids the chance at an excellent public school education.
For years, Team de Blasio refused to allow the Success Academy charter network the space to open any new elementary schools. That should’ve changed with the rise of Mayor Eric Adams and Chancellor David Banks, who both put children’s interests first.
But the UFT has mounted a full-court press to stop new Success schools from opening in Queens and the Bronx — with a relentless propaganda campaign to gin up baseless fears that new charters will somehow harm the schools already running in those buildings. It’s meant to browbeat the Panel for Education Policy into voting down the space requests.
Some background: As alternative public schools, charters are fully entitled to use vacant space in Department of Education buildings, and indeed have been doing so for two decades. DOE professionals identify good candidate buildings, which PEP must OK.
And there’s plenty of room, since DOE schools now enroll roughly 200,000 fewer kids than at their recent peak. Moreover, demographics (fewer New Yorkers having kids) guarantee that the space will remain available.
This means “co-locations” — two or more schools sharing a building. But that’s routine all across the city; over 1,000 regular public schools are co-located, and charters have long been in the mix.
In December, PEP OK’d one new Success co-location for the 2023-4 school year, in Sheepshead Bay. It’s to vote on three more (two in Queens, one in the Bronx) later this month, after the panicmongers forced at least one delay.
The DOE ID’d three buildings for these new schools. Each of the two in Queens has room for 700 more students, the Bronx site 900. Success elementary schools typically top out at 450 to 500 scholars.
Yet the union invents strife, telling parents that charters are (mysteriously) uniquely dangerous. More laughable still, the UFT is pretending that high school and middle school kids are somehow threatened if an elementary school opens in the same building. Huh? Five-year-olds pose risks to teens?
Plus, these buildings are huge. DOE assigns distinct areas to different schools, with their own entrances, classrooms, bathrooms, stairways, halls and so on. Indeed, the proposed Queens site with the high school already has a day-care facility (for students’ tots).
Again, all three buildings have seen enrollment drops of 20% or more since the 2017-8 school year. Even if some of the schools they now host reverse that, there will still be plenty of room.
By the way, six SA elementary schools already share buildings with high schools, with no problems. One shares with five of them; another with four. (Oh, and when a Success school is added to a building, the existing schools usually see their scores rise.)
The DOE bases its co-location recommendations on data provided by each existing school’s principal. Critics who question its estimates of future space needs can’t show any reason why the numbers would be wrong: The DOE’s track record is excellent.
Success Academy offers some of the best public education in the entire state. Overall, its scholars outscore the Scarsdale system, though Success kids are overwhelmingly from low-income, minority families.
That’s why hundreds of mainly black and Hispanic families want to enroll their kids in a Success school. The UFT doesn’t want those children to have that opportunity, because it wants them attending “its” schools (though most of the existing schools in these areas stink).
So the union’s gone nuclear to try to stop new SAs from opening, enlisting credulous parents and cynical politicians (like Queens beep Donovan Richards) to make PEP members fear doing the right thing. Adams and Banks need to lead their PEP allies in facing down this campaign. New York City desperately needs more good public schools, even if they put the teachers union’s nose out of joint.