New York City: Facilities Access and Supportive Ecosystem

New York City offers a striking illustration of the difficulties charter schools face in accessing facilities. As recently as 2001, the nation’s largest city was home to only 14 charter schools — out of a total of more than 1,200 public schools.12 Lack of access to appropriate and affordable school facilities in New York‘s costly real estate market acted as a primary barrier to the proliferation of charter schools. Under state law, charters schools are ineligible for state facilities funding to which district schools are entitled. As a result, charter schools across the state reportedly spent between 8 and 18 percent of operating funds on facilities’ costs, with charters in New York City at the highest end of the range.3

The facilities access problem in New York City began to change under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who assumed office in 2001. In 2003, the state granted control over New York City’s troubled public schools to the mayor, moving away from a fragmented, neighborhood board-driven governance structure.4 Bloomberg, together with his appointed Chancellor of New York City Public Schools Joel Klein, embarked on a package of reforms that included an increased focus on charter schools as a primary policy goal.5 Their approach on charters was two-fold: improve facilities access for charter schools and facilitate a city ecosystem to support the expansion of a high-performing charter sector.

Fostering Expansion Through Facilities Access and Ecosystem Support

Recognizing the barrier that facilities presented to charter expansion, Mayor Bloomberg’s administration began a policy of co-location, under which charter schools could occupy unused or underused district buildings. At the beginning, the city granted charter schools space in unused district offices resulting from the downsizing of neighborhood-based district administration. Subsequently, the district began offering space in district school buildings, in some cases placing charter schools in buildings vacated by district schools closed for poor performance and in others co-locating charter schools alongside operating district schools. In earlier years, the process for making co-location decisions was relatively informal; but as the policy has evolved, the process has become more transparent.6 As of 2013, 62 percent of New York City’s charter schools were co-located in district facilities.7

In addition to co-location, the city established the New York City Capital Matching Program, which provides matching funds for charter school construction. Since 2005, it has provided $460 million in matching funds and contributed to at least 11 construction projects to create about 4,800 charter school seats across the city.8

Through Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, charter schools in NYC expanded to include 183 schools serving about 6 percent of the public school population by 2013.9 A significant driver of this expansion was the policy around sharing facilities between traditional district schools and charter schools.

Simultaneous with the genesis of the city’s co-location policy, Mayor Bloomberg engaged in a public-private partnership to establish the New York City Charter School Center (originally called the Center for Charter Excellence) to provide support to the city’s charter sector. The Center spearheaded efforts to engage Teach For America and New Leaders for New Schools to build the human capital capacity to support a growing charter school sector. And the Center helped facilitate the city’s portfolio management strategy.10

The Future of Charter School Facilities in New York City

The co-location approach has not been without controversy. As the policy has matured, fewer underused spaces are available, making co-location decisions increasingly complex and contentious. Mayor Bill De Blasio, who succeeded Bloomberg in 2013, has been critical of co-location. During his campaign, he pledged to slow the pace of co-locations, a position that won support from unions and district parents and advocates. In March 2014, he announced a denial of three co-location plans involving charters. This move galvanized charter advocates in the city, who with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, sought intervention from the state. That intervention came in the form of a state law applicable only to New York City.1112

Enacted in 2014, the state law now defines a process for charter schools to receive facilities support from the city in one of two forms. New or expanding charter schools can apply to the city for space in district schools through co-location. If no suitable district space is identified, then the district must provide funding to offset the cost of renting space in the city.13 The law provides some stability in facilities access to the New York City charter sector moving forward.

New York City’s facilities policies together with support for quality charters have resulted in rapid expansion of a charter sector with strong performance relative to traditional district schools.14 In particular, the city’s management of facilities needs across school types provides an example of an approach to a common challenge of charter school expansion in numerous communities.

  1. Maureen Kelleher, “New York City’s Children First: Lessons in School Reform,” Center for American Progress: 32, accessed April 14, 2015,
  2. “Common Core Data,” National Center for Education Statistics.
  3. “Building Inequality: How the Lack of Facility Funding Hurts New York Public Charter Schools Students,” New York City Charter School Center: 8, accessed April 15, 2015,
  4. James C. McKinley, “State Senate Passes Bill Giving Mayor Control of Schools,” New York Times, June 12, 2002, accessed April 15, 2015,
  5. Maureen Kelleher, “New York City’s Children First: Lessons in School Reform,” Center for American Progress: 1, accessed on April 14, 2015,
  6. James Merriman, (executive director of the New York City Charter School Center), phone interview, April 10, 2015.
  7. “Building Inequality,” New York City Charter School Center, 5.
  8. “Building Inequality,” New York City Charter School Center, 6.
  9. “Charter School Facts: 2013-14,” New York City Charter School Center, accessed April 16, 2015,
  10. James Merriman, interview.
  11. Andrew J. Rotherham and Richard Whitmire. “De Blasio vs. Everyone Else: New York’s Mayor Takes on Charter Schools, and the National Education Debate Hangs in the Balance,” Slate, March 12, 2014, accessed April 16, 2015,
  12. Philissa Cramer, “Cuomo Lends Support to Solving Charter School Space Issue with Legislation,” Chalkbeat New York, March 6, 2014, accessed April 16, 2015,
  13.  “A Guide to New Provisions in State Law Affecting New York City Charter Schools,” New York City Charter School Center, accessed April 15, 2015,
  14. “Charter School Performance in New York City” (2013), Center for Research on Education Outcomes, accessed April 16, 2015,
Back to Chapter