The 30 Schools in 30 Days project will highlight a different New York State charter school each day, featuring each school's successes, and the challenges that come from being denied access to state facilities funding. Perhaps most important, each school leader has a message for state lawmakers in Albany: please find a solution to the facilities funding problem and allow ALL of the state's charter schools access to building aid this year.
Bronx Charter School for Excellence (BCSE) in the Parkchester neighborhood of the Bronx educates students from some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. The K-8 school is a high-performing, nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School for Excellence. 650 students attend, with a waitlist of more than 4,000 children.
Head of School Charlene Reid said, “The neighborhood a child is from should not determine the student’s ability to succeed. Given the right opportunities, all children have the potential to achieve greatness. Every child can learn and that every child is smart.”
She continued, “Even though we’re in a high-needs area, our students are excelling.”
BCSE is considered one of the top charter schools in New York State. On average, BCSE third grade students perform about 40% higher on New York State ELA exams than children in the district schools. Their fourth graders perform 50% higher. The youngest children are expected to read at a mid first-grade level by the end of kindergarten.
The school even caught the attention of former US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who toured BCSE last year.
The culture of BCSE is scholarly. Not only are the students called “scholars” because their teachers want them to be lifelong learners, they dress in uniform, and college pennants adorn the walls of the school. Discipline is strict. Students are expected to obey instructions. The school year is longer than a traditional district school year.
But the students who attend school here love it and know they are lucky to have won a spot. Many young children talk about their aspirations for college and beyond.
BCSE also shares best practices so that it can help expand its successes into the community. The school was chosen by the state to collaborate with nearby district school PS 85 to share best practices. In 2012, 86% of BCSE students passed state reading exams but just 20% of students at PS 85 passed the exams. The two schools are working together to boost the students’ test scores. They received a $500,000 grant from the state Education Department for their collaboration until 2017.
Despite its huge successes, BCSE is denied any state funding for facilities. It must use money intended for teachers, books and materials to help pay rent and building costs - all because of an omission in the state law that leaves charter schools in private space out in the cold.
Reid talks about the kinds of things she could provide if she did not have to dig into the per-pupil funding to pay rent and mortgage.
“We could hire more teachers, provide more extra curricular activities, enrichment programs, more arts and music, and more field trips for our kids.”
Her message to lawmakers is: “Charter schools in New York have proven their worth. If we’re serious about breaking failing cycles and funding what works, provide all charter school students with equal access to public funding for their school buildings. We are a Blue Ribbon school and we are setting our children up for academic success. We deserve to be treated fairly.”
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