Charter Schools: Vigilante or Nemesis to New York’s Education System?

We can all agree that New York city’s public-school system is broken; test scores are down in many districts showing inadequate performance and due to a lack of funding many schools are suffering from a lack of resources and personnel. Fortunately, many people have found the solution to this issue—charter schools. Unfortunately, this solution has potential to create an even greater magnitude of educational inequality in the New York school system than is already present. Take for example Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts, where Dasani—an inhabitant of Auburn Family Residence—attends. Auburn is a rickety ramshackle of a shelter for homeless families where Dasani and her 7 siblings are crammed into a single decrepit room along with their parents. Her only escape and opportunity for solitude is when she steps into the dance rooms of McKinney. But due to budget cuts, its already overcrowded and dilapidated enrichment programs are in danger of being slashed and with the looming threat of a new charter school moving into the district they would be the first to go.

The “threadbare curtains” and “stage props…salvaged from the garbage” of the theater and the overcrowded dance classes that require students practice in shifts paint a stark contrast to the amenities available at charter schools. These schools are funded publically but run privately in the hopes that education will become a free market bringing improvement stimulated by competition. However, the actual consequence of the advent of charter schools is the fiscal impacts they have had on public schools. By attracting students to their schools, charter schools have resulted in the siphoning off of resources from schools like McKinney which lost a quarter of its budget due to the loss of population. According to the Network for Public Education (NPE) this loss of bodies in public schools can be so disastrous because the schools have “’stranded costs’” such as utilities, maintenance, salaries et cetera, that cannot be reduced as the population of students is lost. A fiscal study of Albany and Buffalo in the greater New York region, conducted by Robert Bifulco at Syracuse University, proved that in “just one academic year the Albany school district lost $23.6-$26.1million and the Buffalo district lost $57.3-$76.8 million to charter schools”

In fact, this transference of pupils may be even more egregious with the new prospective Trump legislation: The School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, an act that is not supported even by supporters of school choice. According to Bifulco’s study, the other most flagrant issue that charter schools present for public schools is the stress resulting from the excess costs generated by the coordination issues associated with the operation of two separate systems of education being run by two separate government systems. Some of these “excess costs” include increased revenue dedicated to education place increased burden on taxpayers. In addition, charter schools require more personnel resources putting a greater strain on budgeting.1 There is also the issue of inequity of choice to be considered. “Charter schools have the tendency to amplify student population differences across schools by disability, language, and low-income status, and that charter schools’ access to financial resources varies widely”2 as a result of this inequity, thereby further segregating the school system.

The costs associated with charter schools must be weighed against the benefits. While it is true that charter schools, specifically Success Academy—which has been the most successful of the charter schools in NYC (pun intended). They provide tuition free education for many blacks and Latinos but due to the selection process and limited seating, the harm it does to the countless other black and Latino students in the public schools makes it impossible to justify that good. Especially when considering the effect that charter schools encroaching on districts have on public schools like the one Dasani attends. Many of the children in underprivileged neighborhoods have only school left as an option and they must suffer the consequences of this war in education funding. Charter schools must reduce their costs until they can justify the benefits.


1 Bifulco, Robert, and Randall Reback. “Fiscal Impacts of Charter Schools: Lessons from New York.” Education Finance and Policy9, no. 1 (2014): 86-107. doi:10.1162/edfp_a_00121.


2 Frankenberg, Erica, Stephen Kotok, Kai Schafft, and Bryan Mann. “Exploring School Choice and the Consequences for Student Racial Segregation within Pennsylvania’s Charter School Transfers.” Education Policy Analysis Archives25 (2017): 22. doi:10.14507/epaa.25.2601.