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Charter school showdown looms as schools are pressured to pay rent

Nayaba Arinde | 10/3/2013, 3:23 p.m.

There is going to be a schoolyard scuffle, with the controversial, non-rent-paying charter schools rallying to protect their preferential status in public school buildings.

Charter school advocates are warming up their vocal chords. A furor is about to erupt. Advocates hope to counter that with the aid of Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, who has a stronge chance of taking over City Hall. If he succeeds, he will take his firm position against charter schools occupying public school spaces without paying a dime.

Tuesday, Oct. 8 is D-day.

With 22 schools under her Success Academy umbrella, former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz is reportedly planning to cancel classes and put the children out on the streets to march over the Brooklyn Bridge.

With almost 200 charter schools and more in the works, de Blasio has said repeatedly that he will halt the controversial and unfair practice of having these public and privately supported schools existing rent-free in public schools, which are oftentimes struggling to balance slashed and under-attack budgets.

You wouldn’t let a perfect stranger move into your home and pay no rent, right? Well, that is the position of opponents to this profit-making charter school movement, which is sweeping the nation with behind-the-scenes big businesses, who are bogarting their way into public schools all over the nation. Most of them are not paying a single cent in rent, yet they’re taking up classrooms and offices and sharing gym, auditorium and cafeteria spaces with the original residents of the public school buildings. The contention is played out most clearly at the raucous Panel for Educational Policy rallies, such as those held at Brooklyn Tech, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s charter school advocate and now wealthy proponent Moskowitz brings her supporters en masse.

In very typical Moskowitz fashion, she will be providing free buses for students and their families to attend the demonstration.

In a letter to parents, Moskowitz stated, “Your child’s education is threatened. Our very existence is threatened. Opponents want to take away our funding and our facilities. These attacks are a real danger—we cannot stand idly by.”

Once an employee in City Hall, Moskowitz has since set up her personally profitable Success Network and paid herself at least $475,000, earning twice the salary of New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.

For years, observers have publicly decried her close relationship with the charter-school-doring Bloomberg, saying that favoritism has allowed her to colocate in so many public schools despite marked opposition from parents, students and teachers in those schools.

The Success Academy did not respond to an AmNews request for comment.

Charter schools should exist in their own buildings,” said activist Wilmon Cousar. “It is not fair that they take up space in public schools and compete unfairly with more resources and funding in the same space without paying one red cent in rent.”

Speaking on the issue on a mayoral forum in the summer, de Blasio raged, “There is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent. They should have to pay rent.”

Charter schools are big business in the states. According to Reuters, “There are now more than 6,000 in the United States, up from 2,500 a decade ago, educating a record 2.3 million children.”

Banking on the federal “New Markets Tax Credit” initiative, monied investors are flocking to be a part of the “underserved” communities program that gives them a tremendous tax credit benefit (as much as 39 percent).

Hedge funds, investment bankers, private equity firms, foreign and domestic investors and for-profit school industry procurers of much sought after vendor contracts are all part of the charter school cheerleading squad.

And yet, Stanford University weighed up test stats from over 25 states and found that while about one quarter of charters scored better reading scores, half presented no improvement, and 19 percent were worse. In math, the numbers weren’t much cheerier, with a 29 percent improvement, while 40 percent were no better and 31 percent of charter schools did worse.