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Local Taxes to Fund Controversial Charter's National Growth, Official Warns

 Parents and advocates have protested the expansion of Citizens of the World.
Citizens of the World Charter School
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WILLIAMSBURG — A controversial national charter school plans to use New York taxpayer money to grow its network, officials and education advocates said.

Citizens of the World, which is soon opening elementary schools in Williamsburg and Crown Heights, plans on "imposing a licensing fee that would siphon New York taxpayer dollars to aid [the national network's] expansion into other states," state Sen. Martin Dilan wrote in a letter requesting a state investigation of the network.

The network, which was recently found to target wealthy, white parents in its enrollment plan, would charge local schools a 3-percent "licensing fee" for each enrolled student that the schools must pay to Citizens' national board, advocates said. This would amount to millions of dollars over the next five years, they said.

"I am writing today to express my continued concerns relating to Citizens of the World Charter School and to ask that SUNY consider revoking its charter, or at minimum review it," Dilan wrote this month to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute that approved the charter. "I call on you to consider this new information before these schools open."

Advocates from Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents for Our Public Schools (WAGPOPS), who have been fighting against the Citizens schools, said the licensing fee had not been disclosed and that it would arbitrarily take money from the local Citizens branches.

"This is money that would otherwise be going to the kids and classrooms...But they're taking it to go to expanding to other states and cities," said WAGPOPS advocate Brooke Parker. "This isn’t what parents signed up for and it was flipped in with no public recognition or authority."

In a letter to Citizens' board, WAGPOPS members wrote that the "licensing fee" was "unprecedented" and unwarranted.

"The only thing Citizens of the World Charter National owns the rights to is the name itself, and as a newly formed and not yet established entity, use of their name hardly justifies this hefty three percent fee," advocates wrote. "What concerns us is that this fee...is in exchange for nothing but a name. National has not promised or defined any services or support to justify that fee."

When asked about the fee, Jana Reed, chief of schools for Citizens of the World, said it is actually higher than the 3-percent rate advocates have criticized. Citizens of the World charges an initial 8-percent fee per pupil for the schools' first three years, followed by 6.5 percent in 2017 and 5 percent in 2018, Reed said.

But she said it was "very normal for [charter] schools to charge a fee." The money would not be used to support the existing schools, she said.

"They're fees for services...they include training of schools and intellectual property," she said of the Citizens' brand.

The decreasing fee over the years reflects their "model of increased support to [the local schools] in the early years, which decreases but does not disappear in the post start-up years," Reed said.

She said SUNY was aware of the fee structure, which Citizens submitted "in draft form" before it applied for the charter and then presented in its final form after receiving SUNY's authorization.

"There's nothing about our agreement that's revolutionary," Reed said. "It's not as simple as the way [advocates] characterize it."

A representative for SUNY did not respond to calls or emails requesting comment.