Academy Charter School, proposed by leaders of a local church, the Calvary Tabernacle, was approved by the SUNY Trustees in September. Three months later, the Regents approved the Evergreen Charter School, proposed by lead applicant, Sarah Brewster, with the backing of Circulo de la Hispanidad, a Hispanic social services agency.
Both schools are opening their doors this month, and will initially serve a combined enrollment of more than 260 students.
Since charter schools were first authorized in New York State a decade ago, this is the first time two schools opened simultaneously in the same school district outside of one of the six largest urban districts. The Hempstead district has approximately 5,500 students. The two school openings this month got the attention of veteran education reporter John Hildebrand of Newsday, the Long Island daily, which profiled the schools in its Thursday edition (which quoteth yours truly).
The fiscal impact of the charter schools on the Hempstead School district amounts to nearly 5 percent of its budget, when you include what it already is paying to the nearby Roosevelt Academy Charter School for serving its resident students.
Don't cry for Hempstead. It should have at least two charter schools.
First, as to the fiscal issue, thanks to a 2007 change to the state's school aid formula, Hempstead will be reimbursed by the state nearly twice for every added charter school student each year right up to when the schools are fully enrolled, then phased out over a 3-year period. This is because every resident charter school student of Hempstead is counted in the state aid formula and, on top of that, the state reimburses 80 percent of the district's payment for each new charter student (phased down over three years) when charter enrollment exceeds 2 percent of the district's student population.
More importantly, Hempstead's results on the state exams are alarmingly low, as they significantly drop as its students get older. For example, about 70 percent of Hempstead students meet state elementary English standards, while more than 80 percent meet math standards in lower grades - respectable results. By eighth grade, however, the bottom falls out as only 32 percent meet state middle school English standards and 37 percent meet math standards. Middle school outcomes are a crisis in Hempstead and way too many of its students are not prepared to enter high school.
Hildebrand, in his Newsday piece, captures parental sentiment for the charter schools, writing that parents "often voice regret that their children must be placed on waiting lists because space on the Island's charter schools is so limited."
To the credit of the SUNY and the Regents, they responded to the academic concerns and parental demand by respectively approving both schools without cowering to the predictable district opposition based on typically porous analysis of fiscal impact; and without letting one entity's approval preclude its own approval of another charter school in the same district.
Encouraging Signs: Quality, not Politics
The two Hempstead charters getting approved simultaneously in a relatively small school district is a hopeful sign for chartering on several levels. First, the charter authorizers appear less concerned about reflexive district and union political opposition, which are always based on vapid fiscal impact arguments. Second, the quality of the charter applications, Evergreen and Academy, and their founders, took precedent over other ancillary issues. That's common sense, but still encouraging. This is because several other quality applications in the past were not similarly treated, resulting in denial due to politically-based opposition.
Educators, business people and community members in small city or suburban districts should take note of the two new Hempstead charters and take seriously the opportunity it presents for improving public education in your own communities.
for The Chalkboard
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