By Coalition for Education Equality
Open letter to Mayor de Blasio:
We, the members of the Coalition for Education Equality, call on your administration to use the 150,000 open seats across New York City to support the expansion of more than 50 planned public charter schools that require access to quality public space over the next two school years.
Collectively, the schools in the Coalition for Education Equality serve more than 40,000 children. In order to meet the overwhelming demand from our families and the 44,000 children stuck on waiting lists, we have identified the need for an additional 50-plus public facilities in the coming two years.
According to your own Department of Education analysis, 150,000 seats in the city’s district schools sit empty, including 185 school buildings with more than 300 unused seats. Collectively, these 185 buildings could serve an additional 95,000 students. Of these, 67 buildings are significantly underutilized — with more than 500 open, available seats. Our students deserve equal access to this surplus of public space.
This past year we worked together to find numerous spaces for the 2016-17 school year. However, the process was often marred by unnecessary hurdles, difficulties and delays. Sadly, in other cases, public charter schools were not provided with public facilities, leaving thousands of families stranded without a high-quality option or building. The status quo cannot continue. We want to work with your administration to find the public facilities needed for our schools, but more schools need to be sited in public facilities and in a timely manner that gives parents, students and educators the certainty they need and deserve.
By failing to provide our students with timely and fair access to public space, you are denying opportunity to New York City’s highest-need children. Our schools serve a student body that is 92 percent black and Hispanic and 77 percent low-income. Public charter schools provide students with the opportunity to get an excellent education, regardless of their race, income, or zip code. These students are best served in public space, just like all other public school children.
What’s more, the unprecedented demand from families on public charter school wait lists can only be accommodated by the city adhering to the intent of the 2014 facilities access law, instead of paying lip service to it. The law clearly states that the district must exhaust all available public facility options before siting our schools in private space. This has not happened and it needs to change. Charter school students are your students too, and a part of your public school system. They deserve to go to school in public space just as much as any other public school student. They should not be forced to go to school in a private space designed without children in mind and lacking basic features like lunchrooms or gymnasia. In fact, some of these spaces offered to us by the DOE are former warehouses and factories, and require massive and expensive renovations to be safe for children. Moreover, we know that providing existing underutilized space to charter schools saves taxpayer money by utilizing existing buildings to meet growing demand.
Just this past week, you said that you have been “working together” with public charter schools to do what’s best for students. We are asking that you ensure your actions live up to this by opening the doors of the city’s myriad empty classrooms to public charter school students. We call on you and your administration to work with us to plan and problem solve and ensure that we’re making the best use of all of our public space.
On behalf of the nearly 100,000 children currently enrolled in public charter schools and the more than 44,000 families waiting anxiously to attend them, we call on your administration to open up the nearly 150,000 empty seats across New York City to public charter school students.
By doing the right thing and opening up the vast amounts of empty space in public school buildings to public charter school students, thousands more of New York City’s highest-need children and families will finally have access to the high-quality public schools and buildings they want, need, and deserve.