Should Families Really Have to “Choose” Healthy Schools?

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

Looks like it’s going to be a big week for school “choice.” The National Charter School Convention is in full swing (I’ve been following the hashtag #ncsc17, and a better “reform” cliche lexicon you will not find). The folks at CREDO released yet another charter school report that once again invalidly translates small effect sizes into “days of learning” in a vain effort to show charter schools are full of chartery awesomeness.

And the doyen of “choice,” Eva Moskowitz, has apparently picked up the coveted Broad Prize for her work in expanding a network of charter schools with practices so “innovative,” she wants to put them on a digital platforms and share them with the world.

If there was any justice in this world, that video would have been running in a loop behind Moskowitz as she accepted Eli Broad’s dough…

As those of us who follow education policy and live in the greater-NYC area know, Moskowitz’s Success Academy has benefitted enormously from philanthropic giving. $8.5 million from a hedge-funder in 2015. $9.3 million in one night later that year. $25 million from another in 2016. Plus another $10 million from some pikers…

This is all in addition to the monies SA gets from the government for the students it enrolls. Moskowitz’s powerful friends have even made sure that she doesn’t have to play by the rules that everyone else must follow. The result is a school system swimming in money — a system that relies on funds that no one else gets to access.

Understand, it’s not just the kids on SA’s “got-to-go” list who miss out on all this Wall Street largesse; any NYC student, public or charter, who isn’t in Moskowitz’s network misses out on the benefits of all this extra cash.

In the case of Success Academy and other big-profile charter networks, the benefits of lots of extra resources come at the cost of not having your child enrolled in a democratically and locally controlled public school, with greater transparency and greater access to due process and student/family rights.

Why I am bringing all this up today? Well…

PATERSON – Monday’s heat wave prompted city school officials to send elementary students home at 1 p.m. on Monday.

High school students already were getting out early because of exams, according to district spokeswoman Terry Corallo. The district has more than a dozen schools that are more than a century old and lack air conditioning.

Staff members on Monday were required to stay at work until after 3 p.m., prompting criticism from the president of the teachers union. [emphasis mine]

And it’s not just Paterson:

Thermometers are rising and more than 20,000 students in public schools in PlainfieldTrenton, and other districts throughout the state are being sent home early over the next two days.

With the pressure of finals in the air, many students and school employees also have to contend with rising classrooms temperatures.

Few examples so elegantly show the wide disparities in school conditions in New Jersey.

In some districts, the rising temperatures won’t mean much and the learning process will continue unabated.  In other districts, schools will be forced to shutter and students will lose precious hours of instruction.

In what is often a clear divide between affluent and poorer districts, some students and school employees will learn in comfortable climate controlled classrooms, while others will struggle to learn and teach in classrooms with temperatures approaching and sometimes exceeding triple digits. [emphasis mine]

It would be an overstatement to say that every classroom in every affluent district in New Jersey has A/C; I know of several examples personally where that’s not the case. But there’s no doubt a student in the leafy ‘burbs is much more likely to have A/C in her school than a child in an urban public school…

Unless that child is enrolled in a well-funded, well-connected charter schoolFrom 2015:

Meanwhile, in Camden, the aunt of a student at Bonsall Elementary School posts a video (which I can’t embed here because it’s on Facebook, so click the link to watch) showing how students on the two lower floors are sweltering in classrooms with no air conditioning.

But up on the third floor, it’s nice and cool. Why? Because that floor was taken over by the Uncommon charter chain, which somehow allowed the district to magically acquire the funds necessary for the school’s renovation. Except somehow, when it came to HVAC needs, the floors housing classrooms for the public district schools didn’t get refurbished in time for the start of the school year.

Bob Braun has been reporting on the disparity in A/C between charters and public district schools in Newark for years. In addition, when the new, modern Teachers Village was constructed in Newark, its three school spaces went immediately to charters; NPS schools were left to wither in the sun.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, to his great credit, has made getting air conditioning units into NYC schools a priority. That’s great, but I have to ask: why the wait? Why do charters like SA have access to millions of dollars in extra funding to keep their kids cool while over one-quarter of NYC classrooms swelter?

Why do Paterson public school students have to end their school day early while New Jersey gives out millions in financing to a publicly-funded charter that pays rent to a private entity? Why was there plenty of money for Teachers Village, occupied solely by charter schools, but scant few dollars to renovate Newark Public Schools’ aging infrastructure — including a plumbing system full of lead? Why did charter students in Camden get air conditioning while CPS students in the very same building did not?

No family should have to “choose” a healthy school for their child. If you really believe, as many of the fine folks partying it up at the NCSC Convention tonight apparently do, that we need more “cooperation” between district and charter schools, why would you stand for a school funding system that advantages high-profile, well-connected charters over public district schools and mom-and-pop charters that may not have hedge fund-types writing them big checks?

Again, there is no question that more affluent public school districts across the country have been unfairly enjoying a resource advantage over less affluent districts. But allowing vastly wealthy people to pick and choose which charter school networks they like, and then setting those schools up with both “no excuses” discipline and A/C, hardly seems like an equitable plan.

Rather than picking a few urban charter schools Hunger Games-style to get decent facilities, why don’t we instead tax the donors to Success Academy a few percentage points more and use the money to make sure all schools are safe, clean, and healthy? 

Is anyone really against that?

charter-war-all-about-eva-axis_0.jpg

h/t UFT

ADDING: Via Twitter, NPS staff report 100+ degrees today in some schools, yet no early dismissal.

Golly, I wonder what the temperature in Chris Cerf’s office was…

ADDING MORE: Ruh-roh:

I have always stated that the Paterson State Appointed District Superintendent Dr. Donnie Evans never fully understood the adverse impact that these inhumane conditions have on our students and our employees. I believe that this is especially true as he works from his air-conditioned 4th-floor corner office located at 90 Delaware Avenue. Be this as it may, while sorting through the OPRA request, I could not help but notice one particular document and the message it sends to our students and employees.

According to district records, on July 26, 2016, a receipt was paid in the amount of $250.77 for the following service/repairs, “AC not working, needs service.” According to these same records, the air condition repairs were made to a vehicle listing Dr. Donnie Evans as the driver. For those who do not know, Dr. Evans is provided the use of a District school vehicle. The irony here is that the repairs listed on the invoice I am referencing is for the same luxuries Evans has denied the students and staff without air conditioning for years.

A reminder: Evans serves at the pleasure of Governor Chris Christie, who wants teachers to work in the summer for no extra pay in classrooms with no A/C.

But not his state-appointed superintendents. Lovely.

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