Success Academy Charters, DOE Battle Over Pre-K Funding


The ongoing pitched battles between the Success Academy (SA) Charter Schools network and the de Blasio Administration took a turn towards an all-out public relations war with the city’s 1.1 million public school students held hostage in the middle.

That after SA announced today they are filing a lawsuit to fight the City’s decision to withhold funding for their children’s pre-k classes in three of their schools including two in Brooklyn – Success Academy Williamsburg, and Success Academy Cobble Hill.

Eva Moskowitz
Eva Moskowitz

The lawsuit argues that under New York State law, charter schools are monitored and reviewed by their authorizers, not the Department of Education. It further argues that in violation of this law, the DOE demands that Success Academy and other charter schools with pre-k grades sign a contract or their funding is withheld.

“The mayor just doesn’t get the charter school concept. It’s about doing things differently, about fresh approaches to helping kids learn and grow, not foisting on schools a 241-page contract that tries to dictate how our pre-k is run the way the UFT contract dictates how the district schools are run,” said Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz.

Other charter schools, including the Achievement First and Public Prep networks, have sent affidavits in support of the lawsuit.

“Universal pre-k was Mayor de Blasio’s signature programbut this contract is just another example of the way in which the city (the mayor) throws obstacles at charters,” said Jacob Mnookin, executive director of Coney Island Preparatory Public Charter School.

But the de Blasio administration produced a letter from the DOE to the Success Academy legal team dated Oct. 15 stating that the “New York State UPK law allows charter schools to offer pre-K programs as part of the District’s UPK plan,” and that “the DOE as a school district is authorized to enter into any contracts necessary to implement its pre-K plan.”

“In contrast, the New York Charter Schools Act does not provide a mechanism for charter schools to provide pre-K services. Rather, the Act allows charter schools to serve grades 1-12 as well as kindergarten. Moreover, the Commissioner of Education of the State of New York has reviewed the statutes referenced above and concluded that charter school pre-K is a program,” the letter states.

Deputy Mayor Rich Buery said the administration worked very hard to bring charters into the pre-K program and is delighted so many have joined.

“Every other one of the 277 organizations that applied to host pre-k–including every other charter–has signed the same basic contract. I hope Success Academy will, too. It’s a fundamental part of ensuring high standards for safety and instruction across the board,” said Buery in an emailed statement.

Steve Zimmerman, Co-Director of the NYC Coalition of Community Charter Schools, which represents all of the city’s non-network charter schools and is independent of Success Academy, said many of the organizations signed the contract holding their noses. He also noted that the non-network charter schools don’t have the money of the network charters so getting funds through signing the contract is more crucial to their bottom line.

“The DOE by nature is a regulatory agency. I’ve looked at the contract and talked with the DOE,” said Zimmerman. “We don’t love the contact, but they (DOE) evidenced a willingness to work with charter schools so we’ll hold them to it and make the contract more workable.

Success Academy’s announcement of the lawsuit comes on the same day that the New York Times reported on the charter school network’s high suspension rate and “weeding” out of unruly students.

The other side of the story is that Success Academy, which is the largest network of charter schools in the city, has many schools in lower-income black and Latino neighborhoods that consistently outperform public schools in wealthier white and Asian neighborhoods.