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Bill De Blasio to NYC Charter Schools: Drop Dead

Shortly before his election, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio floated a kind of anti-charter trial balloon, letting voters know that if elected he would end the practice of letting charters use public school buildings rent-free. It was a threat, but not one that was too extreme, given that many cities didn’t have NYC’s rent-free charter policy.

Now that De Blasio is safely elected, he is throwing down the gauntlet against charters, planning to cut more than $200 million in the Education Department’s new capital plan. Initially, the city sold the change as an attempt to free up more money for pre-K programs, but now the Mayor is dropping even that justification: He says he simply doesn’t want to spend money on charter schools under any circumstances. The New York Daily News reports:

“I want the facts to be clear here. The action taken was to no longer devote [the money] to charter school expansion. Period,” de Blasio said Sunday. “And that frees up the money for other priorities.” De Blasio suggested that besides pre-K, it could go towards reducing overcrowding across the school system.

The charter school issue highlights one of the major fault lines in the Democratic Party: the gap between the producers and the consumers of government services. On the consumer end, wealthy professionals and Silicon Valley types, not to mention many poor urban parents, often favor charter schools as places that have the freedom to try new, better, and cheaper ways of doing things; teacher’s unions, on the other hand, view charters as a way for politicians to staff new schools with lower-paid, non-unionized workers. Both the producers of government services and the consumers are key parts of the Democratic base, making it difficult to split the difference between the two. Many Democrats, most notably President Obama, back the charters; De Blasio’s unbridled contempt for charters makes it clear which side he is on.

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  • johngbarker

    Charters’ greatest freedom may be the ability to select students, legally or covertly, according to ability and character. I look forward to rigorous analysis to test this proposition, even though I doubt it will happen. I think the education reform movement is caught up in millennial expectations that may not possible to achieve.

    • Enemy Leopard

      WRM and the staff here have dealt with this question of selection bias in the past. My impression is that, with the exception of special ed students, charter schools do not select a crop of students with more academic potential, a priori, than traditional public schools. You can search for “charter schools” on this site for more of their discussion, but some places to start include the following:

      None of those links hits exactly upon the point, although I feel like there has been more discussion on this that I haven’t been able to find in a few minutes of cursory searching. As for special ed students in particular, it isn’t that charter schools are discriminating against those that apply, but instead that proportionally fewer apply in the first place. In any case, teaching special ed requires special training and saintly amounts of patience, and I don’t think the question of the overall effectiveness of charters hinges on how many special ed students they handle.

      Perhaps there may be some subtle selection bias that hasn’t yet revealed itself in the data. Maybe those students whose parents enter them into charter school lotteries are more likely to be involved with their children’s education or will work harder to ensure that they succeed, even with other socioeconomic metrics held constant. It’s entirely plausible. If so, this sounds like the beginning of a virtuous circle to me, one that gives the student a better chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty than he or she would otherwise have. I don’t have a problem with that.

  • TommyTwo

    “Now that De Blasio is safely elected…”

    Oh me oh my, who possibly could have foreseen this turn of events? How distressing!

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