I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Return To Teachers Village, Part III: Who's Learning At Teachers Village?

Here are links to all of the posts in this series:

Part I - Introduction
Part II - The Teachers
Part III - The Students
Part IV - What's It Costing Us?

 * * *

Let's ask again: how much money have the taxpayers spent on Newark's Teachers Village?
Teachers’ Village represents a complex mixture of innovatively structured public and private financing:  $22.7 million of Qualified School Construction Bonds were issued through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) and purchased by TD Bank; a $4.25 million loan was secured from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority; and a $1 million loan came from Brick City Development Corporation’s Urban Enterprise Zone Loan Fund, which helped to solidify a unique public‑private partnership with other lenders. The City of Newark provided a $2 million Community Development Block Grant and, in conjunction with the NJEDA, committed $5.3 million in Redevelopment Area Bond financing.  NJEDA also issued $39 million of Urban Transit Hub Tax Credits, which were purchased by Goldman Sachs Bank, and New Jersey Community Capital deployed $10 million of its New Market Tax Credit allocations, which were also purchased by Goldman Sachs Bank.
To be clear: that's mostly private financing. However, there were quite a few tax credits given for the project, as well as some outright grants. There's just no way Teachers Village ever would have become a reality without public funding.

Further, and most importantly: much of the rental revenue collected by the owners of Teachers Village, the RBH Group, can be traced directly back to public sources. The rents paid by the teachers living in TV come from taxpayer-funded salaries. The rents paid on behalf of the tutors working at Great Oaks Charter School come from AmeriCorps grants. The rental fees from the three charters housed at TV come from the Newark Public Schools, which transfers public revenue directly to charters for every Newark student enrolled.

As the Education Law Center just noted, those charter school transfers are having a seriously deleterious effect on NPS's finances (I'll have much more to say about this very important report soon). And yet the charters at TV continue to drain funds from the district to pay their rents. Of course, those rental fees could also be paid with the funds that come from the large philanthropic donations some of these charters receive. But that would be a taxpayers subsidy as well, as every dollar not donated to a non-profit is a dollar that can be taxed.

Given the sizable public funds streaming into the development, it's worth asking: who is learning at Teachers Village? Let's take a look at public data and compare the students enrolled at TV's three charter schools to the rest of the city.

We'll start by looking at how many students are in economic disadvantage (click to enlarge):

Free lunch eligibility is the best proxy measure we have for whether a student is economically disadvantaged. I've separated free lunch from reduced-price lunch here as I usually do when studying Newark. The vast majority of Newark's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, but free lunch (FL) is a deeper level of disadvantage: 130 percent or below the poverty line, as opposed to 130 to 185 percent.

Let's first note that no school in Newark has more FL children enrolled than Discovery Charter School. Of course, as I've noted before, Discovery is also by far the smallest school at TV:

LEAStudent Enrollments, 2014-15, Newark, NJ Schools
Great Oaks CS352
Discovery CS74
Other Newark Charters10,655
* All TEAM-KIPP students.

As I noted last time, we don't have data that breaks down TEAM-KIPP's enrollments by campus, so we don't know for sure how many students they have at Teachers Village. Keep this in mind as we continue: the student demographics I show are for all of TEAM-KIPP's schools, not just the one at TV. Still, it's reasonable to think TEAM-KIPP's entire student body is similar to the student body enrolled at TV.

Again, Discovery is a very small school; to their credit, however, they enroll the highest rate of FL-eligible students in Newark. TEAM-KIPP's enrollment of FL-eligible children is more like the median enrollments found in NPS schools. But Great Oaks has comparatively fewer students proportionately who qualify for FL, even as its student enrollment is much larger than Discovery's.

Let's look next at Limited English Proficient (LEP) students: the students who don't speak English at home and need special services to learn the language.

Here the difference is quite clear: Teachers Village has very few LEP students learning in its classrooms. What about those students with special education needs?

Special education classifications are done by district, and charter schools essentially run as their own districts. No charter school in Newark educates more special education students proportionally than NPS. TEAM-KIPP has one of the higher special education enrollment rates in the Newark charter sector. But Great Oaks is comparatively low, and Discovery has the lowest classification rate.

How does this look in the aggregate?

Teachers Village, as a whole, educates more special education students proportionally than the rest of Newark's charter sector (again, that's assuming TEAM-KIPP's TV population mirrors its entire student body). But the schools at TV do not come close to educating an equivalent special education population compared to NPS. Also keep this in mind: I've shown before that the special education students in the Newark charters are more likely to be classified as having less-expensive disabilities compared to the special education students in NPS.

It's fair to say that the student population at Teachers Village is not similar to the student population of NPS: the students in Teachers Village schools are less likely to be Limited English Proficient and less likely to have a special education need than students in the district schools.

Free lunch eligibility is a more mixed picture. Discovery has a very high FL percentage, but it's a small school. TEAM-KIPP's overall FL percentage is typical for a Newark school. And Great Oaks has proportionally fewer FL students than most Newark schools.

Let me be clear: I think it's terrific that the kids who attend school in Teachers Village get to go to a brand new facility. They deserve nothing less: Newark is a hard-scrabble city, and its children deserve bright, clean, safe schools as much as any other child in New Jersey.

But where is the financing and public funding to build new schools for the students who don't go to Teachers Village? Why can't the students who aren't enrolled in these three charters -- students who, on average, are more likely to have a special education need or to speak a language other than English at home -- also move into brand new schools? Where's their taxpayer-backed financing from Goldman Sachs? Where's their Community Development Block Grant?

As in Camden, it seems that this state -- and, indeed, this nation -- has plenty of money to go around when it comes to financing the construction of new charter school facilities. Wall Street practically falls all over itself to get in on the charter school building action... and why wouldn't they?

Parents in urban centers like Newark have the "choice" of sending their kids to crumbing, filthy, unsafe district schools, or clean, new, air-conditioned charters. Of course many of them will pick the charters -- so long as their child speaks English at home, or doesn't have a profound special education need. That means more and more taxpayer dollars flow to the charters; consequently, they can afford to fund new construction.

But it's not real "choice" when the financing for new construction flows to the charters and not the district schools. And it's not real "choice" if the children served by those shiny new charters are different from the children trapped back in the crumbling public schools.

Let's talk more about how these public funds are flowing to charters, and then to developers, next.

Next: Part IV -- Follow The Money

Teachers Village Ground Breaking, 2012.

1 comment:

StateAidGuy said...

You see the contest for facilities money as one between traditional public schools and charter schools. I see the contest for (state) facilities money as one between districts, specifically between the Abbotts and low resource non-Abbotts (RODs = Regular Operating Districts, ie, non-Abbotts).


Obviously the Abbotts are poor and they require and deserve significant state money for facilities, but the 31 Abbotts are not the 31 poorest districts in New Jersey based on Local Fair Share per student (or demographics, although that is a separate subject). Of the 50 economically poorest districts in NJ, only 22 are Abbotts.

Most of the rest of the Abbotts are still in the bottom third in tax base per student, but several of them, such as Jersey City, Harrison, Neptune Township, Long Branch, and Hoboken are average or above-average in Local Fair Share per student.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s poor non-Abbotts get SCREWED. They are eligible for ROD grants like other districts, but the fact that they are very poor doesn’t qualify them for additional state facilities funding. To give an extreme example of how unfair the facilities law is to non-Abbotts, the state was only willing/able to pay for 38% of Freehold Boro’s construction & renovation costs.


It’s not like Freehold Boro was asking for any extras either. All of their proposals were for basic things like new classrooms so that they could repurpose their library back to being a library again and stop having to send kids out of district just to have space. Meanwhile, the state pays for aquatic centers in Abbotts, like Neptune Township and Trenton, to name two.


NJ needs to reform its construction aid regime even more than the K-12 aid.

The Abbott all-or-nothing doctrine is appallingly unfair and gets worse every year as the Abbotts become more and more divorced from being NJ’s poorest districts.

NJ needs a sliding scale of cost sharing for facilities, like it has with operating aid. Even Bridgeton (the poorest Abbott) should pay for something. Given the non-existent difference between districts like Woodlynne, Prospect Park, Hi Nella, and Freehold Boro and the Abbotts it is a crime that these poor non-Abbotts are so savagely neglected.