As new charter schools open, Buffalo School Board asks for moratorium
The new school year brought a new charter school to the city’s Willert Park neighborhood, while another Buffalo charter added a second location on Hertel Avenue.
One broke ground for an elementary school on Great Arrow Avenue, while two more charters are scheduled to open next year, bringing the total in Buffalo to 18.
At least three more are on the horizon.
The flurry of local activity surrounding charters is refueling tensions with Buffalo Public Schools, which has petitioned the state to slow down the charter expansion across the city.
Frustrated by the loss of more students and funding to new charters, the Buffalo Board of Education has requested that the State University of New York and the state Board of Regents – the two authorizing entities – issue a three-year moratorium on charters in Buffalo.
It also asked that school boards be allowed to sign off on charter applications and recoup funds from charters whose students return to Buffalo schools.
“We just don’t want this to be seen as some symbolic gesture that doesn’t go anywhere,” said Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, School Board president. “We’d like to have some feedback, some dialogue.”
Buffalo had more than 7,100 students enrolled in charter schools three years ago, but the district estimates that number is upwards of 9,000 this year.
The district then pays the charters per pupil, a budgeted amount that has reached nearly $124 million and accounts for about 14 percent of the district’s general fund.
In fact, district funding to charters is up by more than $14 million from last year, because of the new charters coming on board. And that doesn’t include other associated costs provided by the district, such as transportation and special education services, Nevergold said.
“More and more of the district funding is going to charter schools,” said Nevergold, who sponsored the charter resolution that passed in a 6-2 vote, “and yet, while that’s happening, we’re losing resources needed for schools in the district.”
The proposed moratorium will be perceived as anti-charter – but so be it, she said.
“We’re not bashing charters, but charters aren’t the saving grace for public education,” Nevergold said. “While certainly there are charter schools that are successful, they’re not uniformly better than the district schools – some do better, some do worse, some are on par.”
Duncan Kirkwood, a charter school advocate, said he is disappointed by the action from the Board of Education.
“We understand charter schools are not perfect, they’re not the magic answer,” said Kirkwood, Western New York advocacy manager for the Northeast Charter Schools Network. “But thousands of families have chosen to send their children to a charter school.
“So instead of focusing on trying to make their schools so good that no one wants to leave, the School Board’s answer is to take away the parent’s choice to leave and trap them in schools that may not be working for their children,” Kirkwood said.
Buffalo schools have their problems, Kirkwood said, and parents take their children out of the district for a litany of reasons – classroom sizes are too big, kids aren’t being challenged enough, school safety is sometimes a concern or they’re just fed up with the school system.
“A lot of parents do have one child in a district school and one in a charter school. It’s all about what works best for that child,” Kirkwood said. “That’s why it’s so frustrating to keep pitting district schools against charter schools, because a lot of families are the same families.”
Some of the latest developments on the charter school front:
• Reach Academy Charter School opened in August on Ash Street in the building that once housed the former Pinnacle Charter School. The school, which will have a strong focus on literacy, currently enrolls about 160 students in kindergarten and first grade with the goal of adding a grade level each year to eventually serve K through 8.
• Elmwood Village Charter School in Allentown acquired the former Cardinal Dougherty High School on Hertel, between Elmwood and Military, and reopened it this year as a second location, known as Elmwood Village Charter School Hertel. Currently home to 150 students in kindergarten through second grades, the Hertel location will grow into a K through 8 school for 450 students.
• Tapestry Charter, a K to 12 school on Great Arrow Avenue, broke ground in August for a new elementary school. Tapestry will move its kindergarten through fifth grade classes to the new building, constructed on an adjacent site, to open space for more students in the upper grades as demand grows.
• Buffalo Collegiate Charter School was approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees and is scheduled to open next August on the city’s East Side. The school will start with 120 students in fourth and fifth grades with the goal of growing into a school for grades 4 to 12.
• Persistence Preparatory Academy Charter School also was approved by SUNY and is scheduled to open in Buffalo next August with 108 students in kindergarten and first grade, but ultimately serving as a school for K to 8.
• Applications for three additional charters – Buffalo Commons, Ellington Preparatory Academy of Arts and Sciences and New Learning Paradigm – have been submitted to the state Board of Regents and are under review.