Fariña makes her (first) big move on charters

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Carmen Fariña. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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Late Friday afternoon, schools chancellor Carmen Fariña proposed a change to the city's capital plan that would divert $210 million from charter school construction and partnerships and toward pre-kindergarten expansion.

The announcement came in the form of a series of changes Fariña proposed to the Department of Education's 2015-2019 Capital Plan, which also includes adding 7,000 seats to the city's schools to make room for Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed universal pre-K program and to help reduce class size, which rose consistently during the last six years of the Bloomberg administration.

Charter advocacy groups reacted strongly to the proposal.

"Tonight, the chancellor cut funding for thousands of students who attend excellent public schools," Jeremiah Kittredge, the executive director of Families for Excellent Schools, said in a statement. "Once again, thousands of minority and low-income students and families have their educational future unfairly put in jeopardy." 

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"This administration has a decision to make, and soon," James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said in a statement. "If they're interested in results, they will make sure high-performing charter schools are fully included in the pre-K program, including maintaining capital funding. Otherwise, it will be clear their move to push pre-K is more about ideology than about helping children." 

Fariña's announcement ties the fight over the fate of the city's charter schools to the de Blasio administration's wider push for expanded pre-K citywide and for the passage of de Blasio's proposed high-earner tax hike in Albany. The proposed shifting of funds is dependent on the passage of Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposed $2 billion New York State Smart Schools Bond Act, which de Blasio pledged his support for during his testimony in Albany on Monday and which will be on the ballot in November if it is included in the state's final budget agreement. 

"In this era of constrained finances, needs must be prioritized to ensure that we are leveraging all possible funding sources," deputy chancellor for operations Kathleen Grimm said in a statement. "Bond proceeds and re-programming in the proposed Capital Plan will meet the needs for enhanced education technology, reduction in class size and enable long-term investments in full-day pre-Kindergarten through the construction of new pre-Kindergarten classroom space."

Fariña's proposal removed all the capital funds pledged to charter construction that were designated in the first version of the budget, which was released in November of last year under former chancellor Dennis Walcott. 

Fariña also proposed that overall funding for the budget be increased to $12.8 billion from $12.0 billion, with $4.4 billion slated for capacity projects, $4.9 billion for capital investment including building upgrades and renovations, and $3.5 billion for mandated programs such as building code compliance regualtions.

$800 million of the total funding is dependent on proceeds from Cuomo's school bond. 

The $4.4 billion capacity budget is intended to create over 32,560 new seats throughout the system and increase pre-K capacity by 2,100 seats. 

The D.O.E.'s Panel for Educational Policy, a 13-member body appointed by the mayor and the city's borough presidents, will vote on the plan at a March 18 meeting before it is submitted to the mayor and City Council for a vote in June as part of the overall budget.