In 2009, as head pastor of my Hempstead church, I watched with alarm as the children of my congregation could barely read their hymnals during Sunday services. The tragic situation led me, my wife and other congregation leaders to start what has become Long Island’s largest charter school network, with nine schools in Hempstead, Uniondale and Wyandanch.
I founded The Academy Charter School in 2009 to be part of the solution to the crisis of academic underperformance in Long Island’s poorest communities. Today, 98% of our graduating scholars complete high school within four years. Graduates from the class of 2023 are succeeding at institutions such as Columbia University, Georgetown, and NYU.
Despite their remarkable success, students at the Academy School and other high-achieving Long Island charters continue to be let down. Albany assigns us second-class status in an education funding system that denies us resources equal to what traditional public schools receive.
Unlike traditional public schools and charters in New York City, charter schools outside the city are forced to rely on operating funds to construct and maintain their school buildings. The high cost of construction and maintenance means that upward of 30% of our operating budgets — money that should go to expanding student programs and paying teachers a good wage — is being redirected to debt service and other capital costs.
This system threatens to undermine our students’ achievements. In order to provide a quality education to every child, we must invest in both our students and the schools themselves.
It is remarkable that we have managed to outcompete our local public school districts despite the chronic underfunding. But that status quo is not sustainable. It is imperative that our leaders in Albany finally address the facilities funding issue by changing our education funding system and properly equipping schools in Long Island’s underprivileged districts — the same way charter schools are funded in New York City.
Without an equal capital funding stream, we will inevitably face painful decisions. Schools such as ours could be forced to cut extracurricular and specialty programs that working parents rely upon, as well as positions for bilingual teachers sorely needed to educate our growing Spanish-speaking student population.
These type of cuts would threaten the success of students at The Academy Charter School and charter schools across Long Island and New York State.
This isn’t just another budget line item; we are talking about the future for thousands of New York children. Our schools in Hempstead and Uniondale have accomplished remarkable things. Test scores and graduation rates have far outpaced those of traditional public schools in the area. There are many other communities with large populations of economically challenged families that desperately need similar options. But that will be virtually impossible unless the state provides Long Island’s charters with the same facilities funding that traditional schools receive.
Studies show that a state of good repair in school buildings correlates with higher attendance and better performance. High-quality, functional school facilities are a critical component to student success.
The success, indeed the very existence of Long Island’s charter schools, depends upon their continued high performance. But with the odds stacked against our students and our schools, it’s an increasingly difficult task. Failure is not an option.
Ahead of the upcoming legislative session, charter leaders from Long Island to the North Country must join the fight for fair facilities funding. Our students deserve what is owed to them.
Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin
By Bishop Barrington Goldson
Newsday Guest essay