Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that his charity, Bloomberg Philanthropies, would launch a $750 million initiative to expand access to charter schools in 20 metro areas across the country. The initiative aims to create 150,000 more seats in charter schools over the next five years by providing seed capital for new charters, investing in existing charters, and developing “best practices for the nation.”

In the op-ed, Bloomberg lambasted the state of public schools, highlighting the strain that the pandemic has put on teachers and families. Citing pre-pandemic poor performance among American students and increased charter school enrollment last year, when many public schools were struggling to administer remote learning, Bloomberg called for increased accountability amongst district leaders and teachers—accountability that he believes exists in charter schools.

According to a statement made on its Web site, Bloomberg Philanthropies will use the $750 million in partnership with local and national organizations to:

  • Deliver grants to top-performing existing charter schools to facilitate growth that accommodates community demand, excluding for-profit and fully virtual charters
  • Provide seed funding for new high-quality charter schools, with an emphasis on new models that appeal to students and families
  • Build and upgrade school facilities
  • Provide training and support for teachers, principals, and other school leaders
  • Support charter school teachers and leaders of color so that charter leadership can reflect the diversity of their students
  • Conduct and publish research on key drivers of student achievement across charter schools supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies

The initiative builds on the former mayor’s legacy of supporting charter schools. His administration, as he noted in his op-ed, helped create over 150 new charter schools after lobbying the New York State Legislature to lift the cap on charters within the city. He credited these schools with helping to “reduce racial and ethnic achievement gaps in New York.”

Bloomberg wrote that his latest initiative is an attempt to “begin meeting the demand for charters,” and to build a “stronger model of public education that is based on evidence, centered on children, and built around achievement, excellence and accountability for all.”

In extolling charter schools, Bloomberg recycled a favorite argument among charter advocates that students at Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy have outperformed students in Scarsdale on state exams. Bloomberg, like many making this case, neglected to mention, however, that Success Academy not only posts high student attrition rates, with students who cannot abide by its rigid expectations transferring elsewhere, but also focuses relentlessly on test prep, so much so that it holds “Slam the Exam” pep rallies in advance of state exams.

- Andrew Thomas, NCSPE Research Associate