New York City has just become ground zero in the national debate over charter schools, with a massive protest scheduled for next month. On October 8th, a number of charter school teachers and their students will take the day off and head to the Brooklyn Bridge, where they will protest what they see as mayoral favorite Bill de Blasio’s attacks on charter schools.Early in the campaign, de Blasio announced his intentions to begin charging them rent for the use of public school buildings. Most of the city’s charter schools currently operate out of empty or underused public school buildings, for which the city charges no rent.Now battle lines are being drawn. Teachers unions and left-leaning outlets like the Daily News point out that this is a relatively unusual arrangement—many cities charge charter schools at least nominal rent for use of city property. They also express concern that the deal gives charters an “unfair advantage” over their public-school competition. Charter supporters object to the change, which they say could force many to shut down or cut back on programs that benefit their students. It’s a particularly potent concern in a city where rents are stratospherically expensive.
From our perspective, we are less concerned with whether charter schools have an unfair advantage over public schools than whether they succeed at offering students a solid education. If allowing charter schools to use mostly-empty buildings free of charge (which is, essentially, the same deal public schools themselves already have) frees up resources that help improve their students’ performance, this is all to the good.For education reformers, this is quickly turning into a battle to watch.[Bill de Blasio photo courtesy of Getty Images]