Steven Zimmerman, Co-Director of the NYC Coalition of Community Charter Schools Brown v NY Press Con

Good afternoon, everyone and thanks so much for coming out on this gorgeous spring day.

Gracias a todos por venir en este día hermosa. Agradecemos muchísimo su apoyo y también el apoyo de nuestros amigos en el movimiento para escuelas púbicas charter.

I want to thank our partners in advocacy for their support of this event: The Northeast Charter School Network who have been the chief advocates for the plaintiffs in Western New York and, of course, the NYC Charter School Center, who have been unwavering supporters of every charter school in this city.

My name is Steve Zimmerman. I’m the founder of two independent public charter schools in the breathtakingly diverse borough of Queens and I’m the co-director of the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, an organization representing more than 50 independent public charter schools in the five boroughs. I want to speak to you about why we’re here, and then you’re going to hear from some charter school leaders and parents who will speak directly about the affects of inequitable education funding in their own schools and communities.

Venimos hoy para apoyar a las familias de Nueva York poniente en su lucha para justicia en la educación pública.

We’re here today to show our support and stand in solidarity with the brave families on the other side of our state who have filed a lawsuit against New York, which will be heard tomorrow in Erie County Courthouse – 400 miles from here. This lawsuit, Brown v. NY is at the heart of one of the most widespread and perverse inequities affecting a growing number of students throughout the state and we should all be paying attention to it.

Children who attend public charter schools don’t receive nearly the same per-pupil funding as children attending district schools. This disparity, which has existed since the original New York Charter Schools Act of 1998, has widened in the post-recession years as budget freezes were lifted. Studies now estimate that students attending public charter schools in Buffalo are only getting 68 cents for every dollar spent on their peers in district public schools. If we are truly a people who believe in “fair and equal” it’s time to end this.

Brown v NY says the “present system used to fund charters limits the ability of charter schools to provide students with the resources needed to provide a sound basic education” and violates these students’ equal protection rights. Furthermore, since New York charter schools primarily serve minority children and children at risk of academic failure, the suit maintains that the law discriminates against minorities and children at risk.

The facts are clear and we could not agree more. La injustica educativa afecta a todos.

The NYC Coalition of Community Charter Schools is proud to stand with the families of Western New York in their suit. This is our fight as well. Our “Coalition” is a group of over 50 independent charter schools in the five boroughs. Most New Yorkers haven’t heard of us because we’re not part of large charter networks and we tend to work quietly and effectively in our neighborhoods. But folks in our communities know us and put their kids on long waitlists to get into our schools because it is our mission to provide the innovative, progressive and arts-enriched kind of education that our city ideally wants to provide for every child.

This fight is our fight because charter schools, and especially independent charter schools are the most underfunded public schools in New York City. Not only do we get around 75 percent of the funding of regular district schools, but many of our schools pay all facilities expenses, which means rent, utilities, snow removal, security, roof repairs and everything else that district public schools get for free. Very few independent schools receive the corporate funding typical of network charter schools because most of us are too busy running great community schools to be looking to create the kind of “scale” that attracts investors and funders. And yet, individually, we are held to the highest accountability standards in the state.

We put up with all of this because, as charter schools, we’re granted the autonomy to provide educational services in a way that makes sense to us, and we are free to experiment with new models and create the innovative, exciting public schools to which folks in our communities want to send their kids. You’d want to send your kids to our schools, too!

When Carmen Fariña first became Chancellor and there was the sense of a lot of friction between district and charter schools, she said something that cut to the bottom of the nonsense. She said: “They’re all our students.” Well, that is exactly the point. Todos son nuestros hijos. Let’s all say that again. Todos son nuestros hijos.

Fair and equal means no one gets shoved to the back of the educational bus—and this is exactly what the folks in Erie County have made clear. It’s morally indefensible and it’s unconstitutional. We cannot say this often or loudly enough: charter schools are public schools and all public school children should be funded equally.

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