NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Black Churches In New York Plan Charter Schools

December 29, 1998

An unusual coalition of black religious leaders and Wall Street financiers is preparing to take advantage of New York's new charter school law. They plan to use church property to open publicly-financed classrooms for New York City's poorly-served public school pupils. Members of the clergy have also been involved in creating charters elsewhere in the country, including Detroit and Utah.

New York joined 34 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting charter schools with legislation passed earlier this month that allows up to 100 taxpayer-financed schools to be operated with limited government interference under charters granted by the state.

  • While the charter law explicitly forbids the public financing of religious schools, experts say there is nothing to stop members of a church or religious group from setting up a secular arm to start a school at public expense.
  • Chris Whittle, founder and chief executive of the Edison Project -- a for-profit company that runs charter schools in 12 states -- said his company already had begun conversations with people in New York City who wanted to start charter schools.
  • N.Y.C. Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew lobbied aggressively against the charter bill -- saying he supported charter schools as long as they remained under his control.

But observers say the whole charter school movement is driven by the wretched state of most inner-city public schools, which suffer from the same central controls public school officials are desperately fighting to preserve.

Space for classrooms is one of the churches' greatest assets and some of their leaders are investigating the possibility of having public school properties turned over to charter management.

Source: Anemona Hartocollis, "Religious Leaders Map Plans to Use New Law for Publicly Financed Charter Schools," New York Times, December 29, 1998.


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