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SE Queens church rallies for charters

By Rich Bockmann

Charter school supporters gathered outside a southeast Queens church earlier this week, asking Albany to pass legislation that will provide the institutions with funding to build their own school houses.

“All we’re saying is we need equal opportunities for funding and for building schools in our neighborhood,” the Rev. Calvin Rice said outside the New Jerusalem Baptist Church, at 122-05 Smith St., in South Jamaica Tuesday.

Rice founded the Rochdale Early Advantage Charter School in 2010, and the academy’s 193 students go to school every day in space provided by the church.

“This school here was founded by myself and the reason I founded it was because I believe that children need to have a choice,” he said, adding that Early Advantage would have to spend about 20 percent of its budget on rent and utilities if not for the church’s support. “The only way we survive is because this congregation supports education and they support this school.”

The debate over charter schools seems as if it has intensified with each passing day ever since Mayor Bill de Blasio last month decided to deny space inside public school buildings that had been granted by the Bloomberg administration to three Success Academy charter schools, including one proposed to open next year inside August Martin High School in South Jamaica.

Success Academy is the largest charter school network in the city and is run by a longtime de Blasio adversary. The city Department of Education said the three co-locations were found to be poor fits after a review of all the co-locations authorized under the previous administration and is allowing another 13 charters to move forward, including one at IS 59 in Springfield Gardens.

While de Blasio’s decision may be ambiguous as far as an authoritative stance on the schools goes, it has certainly drawn a reaction.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo weighed in on the debate, saying he would support legislation that provides charter schools with money to build their own facilities, and the state Senate last week included several proposals in its budget resolution supporting charter schools, including funding for facilities.

The budget deadline is April 1.

Rice said it would take about $10 million to construct a school on the parking lot the church owns across the street from its building.

He was joined by advocates organized by Families for Excellent Schools, a Wall Street-backed pro-charter group.

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said he believed in school choice and supported Albany’s proposals.

“Look, when you have an idea of how to educate a child, as Dr. Rice does, then we need to make sure that … we can also build facilities and have capital dollars available so that we can build those facilities,” he said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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