To what lengths will teachers’ unions and their allies go to destroy charter schools? Eduardo LaGuerre and Sobeida Cruz are in the process of finding out.
The couple raised their three children in Yonkers. It wasn’t the best public school district, but they hired tutors to fill in the gaps. Two decades ago — when New York state passed legislation to create a path for charter schools — LaGuerre and Cruz wanted to ensure other parents in Yonkers had the types of choices they had lacked. “My concern was for those parents who didn’t have resources,” LaGuerre told me. So in 2005, the couple founded The Charter School of Educational Excellence in a converted Yonkers supermarket.
Today, the school has over 1,000 students and every member of its initial graduating class this year is headed to college. CSEE kids—mostly poor, black and Hispanic –outperform the state average in just about every subject area in every grade. Some 69% of its sixth graders, for example, scored proficient in math, compared to 38% for New York State. In English Language Arts, 91% of CSEE students were proficient, compared to only 57% for New York State.
Over 92% of CSEE students passed the Algebra I Regents exam compared to only 26% in Yonkers. And while traditional Yonkers public schools spend about $26,800 per student, CSEE spends only $16,800.
Still, when it came time to add a high school, the New York State Board of Regents told the administration that they would need to admit 50% of its student body from outside of the city of Yonkers. How come?
After all, there are more than enough Yonkers students on CSEE’s waitlist to fill the school’s slots. What’s more, the 50% provision plainly violates the state’s charter law, which gives preference to “pupils residing in the school district in which the charter school is located.” Siblings of pupils already enrolled in a charter school are also given preferential enrollment slots.
“It’s just sad to tell parents who live right across the street from our school that we can’t take their kids,” says LaGuerre. “It’s even sadder when I can’t take the little sister or brother of one of our students. Why are we splitting the family?”
Of course, if the school let in all those kids from Yonkers, someone might notice that Yonkers has one of the highest student attrition rates in all of New York State. Moreover, according to LaGuerre, children who transfer from the nearby schools are typically starting between two and three years behind their peers at CSEE.
Ultimately, however, CSEE was forced to let in non-Yonkers and did so starting in 2019. But the absurd demands put on the school did not end. The most outrageous is transportation. Indeed, in opening up the school to other districts, CSEE became responsible for bussing costs of children from all over Westchester and as far as the Bronx, which came to over $1 million dollars this past academic year.
Across Westchester, districts provide and pay for busing for children who attend public schools in other districts and even for private and parochial schools. But guess which is the only Westchester school whose busing needs are not covered by the districts according to state education mandates: That’s right, the Charter School of Educational Excellence. “A million dollars!” says Erika Fermin, president of the school’s Parents’ Association. “There are so many more resources we could be giving to our kids with that money.”
The harassment experienced by New York’s charter schools is hardly new. At every turn teachers’ unions and their allies in Albany have tried to reduce charter numbers, deny them buildings to operate in, and create innumerable obstacles to their success (such as requiring out-of-district students or refusing to pay for bussing). And year after year, many — such as CSEE — still manage to outperform their peers by miles. Parents are clamoring for more, but our politicians are beholden to Big Education instead of state taxpayers.
Last November, nine neighborhood families filed a complaint against the Board of Regents and the Department of Education in the state supreme court after being denied admission because of the 50/50 rule. On Thursday the judge sided with the state, claiming that even if the rule violated the law, it was the product of negotiations between the school and the state.
Of course, the approval for a high school was conditional on acceptance of 50-50 — which left the school effectively with no choice. And so hundreds of Yonkers children will be denied admission to an academically successful institution in their own backyard. And CSEE will be left with a million dollar bill for this injustice.