Thursday, March 31, 2016

Open Letter to Charter School Industry

Open Letter to Charter School Industry

Kyle Rosenkrans, C.E.O.
N.E.S.C.N., Inc.
90 State Street, Suite 1030
Albany, NY 12207

March 31, 2016
Dear C.E.O. Rosenkrans:
You have a flare for words, hopefully your command of the facts will one day catch up. 
In your public letter railing against our public schools you string together a series of half-truths to make your case for an increase of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for privately-run charter schools while simultaneously opposing any accountability to protect taxpayer’s money.  
You are right that many of our communities in New York are plagued by “structural racism” and “decades of urban disinvestment.” What puzzles us is why you are not advocating to redress these injustices across the board for all children by demanding the immediate and full funding of the Foundation Aid formula. As you know, the Foundation Aid formula is the outcome of the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity education civil rights lawsuit. In fact, public schools are underfunded by $4.4 billion in Foundation Aid, or CFE funding, which has been owed to them for 10 years as a result of the Court of Appeals decision. Seventy-seven percent of this funding is owed to high-need schools. Instead of fighting for this funding, you are actually working to divert hundreds of millions of dollars away from public schools.  If you were serious about addressing structural racism and urban disinvestment, you would be fighting for our public schools, not against them.
You claim that New York State “does nothing” for charter schools and that the absence of the funding you seek violates the constitution. On the first point, you know full well this is patently untrue. In fact privately-run charter schools receive enormous amounts of public funding due to state law. On the second point, you misunderstand New York’s constitution. Courts in Arizona, Texas and New Jersey have ruled such claims. Privately run charter schools are a voluntary option. The state’s obligation is to create a system of free public schools to educate our children—there is no constitutional obligation to create and fund two such systems.  The problem is that the state has failed to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fully and fairly fund public schools in poor communities. This is the Foundation Aid formula which was created in response to an order by the New York State Court of Appeals in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that clearly established a constitutional standard for funding public schools. The longstanding underfunding of our public schools in our poor communities is indeed a prime example of structural racism and urban disinvestment. If your priority really was the civil rights of all students this is the issue about which you would be raising your voice. 
Your opposition to full funding for public schools is so intense that you call the demand for such funding “piggish.” How can you possibly square that with your protestations about “institutional racism” and “urban disinvestment”? It is hypocrisy to call full funding for public schools in poor communities, including those filled with black and brown students, “piggish” while claiming that you want to challenge institutional racism and urban disinvestment.  
You claim to stand against institutional racism, yet you are silent in the face of some of the most outrageous abuses of black and brown children occurring in this country.  We are sure you have seen the abusive treatment of this young student by a teacher at a Success Academy charter school: 
Check out the video here.

Yet you support a proposal to allow an explosion of uncertified teachers in charter schools—something that is not allowed in public schools.
It has been widely revealed that some charter schools routinely suspend black and brown students at astronomical rates. Some students, as young as kindergarten or first grade, are suspended as much as 15 or 20 times a year and Success Academy used a “Got-to-Go List” to push students out. In civil rights circles this is called the school-to-prison pipeline (perhaps you have studied it). Yet, you oppose a requirement that charter schools follow the same law as public schools when it comes to student discipline and oppose transparent public reporting of these incidents.
Most offensive of all is invoking a “whites-only water fountain or lunch counter” to make your argument. Our public schools in poor communities are grossly underfunded, instead of using your law degree to advocate for them you perpetuate this terrible inequity by advocating against them.
In closing, you describe a “charter-district divide” and claim that “this isn’t a fight that the charter school movement is driving,” which is an incredible distortion of the facts. Your allied organizations have spent millions and millions of dollars - donated by hedge fund millionaires -to run T.V. commercials attacking public education. If you call that a movement we could teach you a thing or two about civil rights. 
Sincerely yours,
Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director, Alliance for Quality Education
Jamaal Bowman, parent, Bronx
Providencia Carrion, parent, Buffalo
Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education
Robert Feliciano, parent and school board trustee, Brentwood
Fatima Geidi, parent, New York City and former Success Academy parent
Keith Jones, parent, Buffalo
Bertha Lewis, Founder and President, The Black Institute
Rosemary Rivera, Organizing Director, Citizen Action of New York
Lydia Rodriguez, parent, Rochester
David Sciarra, Executive Director, Education Law Center
Javier Valdes, Executive Director, Make the Road New York
Jonathan Westin, Executive Director, New York Communities for Change
Ocynthia Williams, parent and advocate, New York City