Reformers in NYC are generally freaking out about the possibility that a new de Blasio administration will change the friendly landscape they've been working in for the past 12 years, by charging rent, ending or limiting co-location, or otherwise making things less easy-breezy. What happens to the Office of New Schools? Who will be left to push for charter schools inside the DOE?
The latest example of this anxiety is Lisa Fleisher's WSJ article about colocation fears among charter supporters (Charter School Blues), which focuses on the idea of making charters pay rent for DOE space. Two thirds of charters are in DOE space, according to the article -- roughly 120 of the 150 total. A 2010 estimate suggests that not having to pay rent makes up $2700 per kid in spending charters avoid (20 percent of per-pupil costs).
Putting charters into district spaces can be controversial and uncomfortable for everyone involved, and in theory charging charters rent would push some of them out of the building or slow the pace of their expansion (though I'm not sure that it makes sense to charge charters if you're not charging everyone else). But then again, making any two organizations or divisions share the same space can create tensions over allocations and use.
What gets left out of the charter/colocation discussion is that the Bloomberg administration has created a slew of new district schools during the past decade or so, almost entirely co-located within empty or underutilized DOE buildings. This year, for example, the DOE opened 78 new schools -- 26 of which are charters. Last year, it was 54 opened (of which 24 were charters). I can't get the DOE to respond but I'm told via Twitter that the grand total for new schools under the entire reign of Bloomberg is 656 -- 150 new charters (66 percent co-located) vs. 506 new district schools (100 percent co-located, presumably).
The vast majority of the time there's no big hullabaloo over the assignment process -- same as with charters -- even though the new schools often have their own practices, schedules, and cultures -- same as with charters. The new school process is not all that different for district schools than charters. There's a need (overcrowding, under-enrollment, failing school), a search for qualified school leaders, and a vetting process. Roughly 300 candidates started the process, which is now apparently down to 60 finalists.
Charter critics can continue to criticize all they want -- with reason, in some cases -- but those of us watching or writing about the debate should know that there are as many if not more new small district schools being created than charters, that co-location is not usually a big problem, and that it's a challenge for district schools as well. Stories about co-location (or leasing charges) should provide context and comparisons to other similar kinds of endeavors and practices.