Via the New York Times:
When it opened in 1998, the Shuang Wen Academy was heralded as a new kind of boutique public school, rooted in a mission of cross-cultural understanding. Small and open to children of any background, it was billed as the nation’s first dual-language English-Mandarin public school, teaching fluency in both languages. Twelve years later, the school, on the Lower East Side, which runs from prekindergarten to eighth grade and has an enrollment of 660, boasts outstanding scores on standardized tests but is in turmoil.
The school is the target of nine city investigations stemming from allegations that it compelled families to pay for after-school instruction, tampered with the city enrollment process, mismanaged its finances and manipulated surveys on parents’ satisfaction with the school. In addition, a series of anonymous, threatening letters directed at the principal and parent leaders prompted the parents association to budget $20,000 for legal assistance and stepped-up security…
Among the issues under investigation is whether an instructional after-school program at Shuang Wen may charge $1,000 per student, as it began doing this year. After-school programs run by private organizations may charge a fee if they are not providing necessary instruction, the city said. Shuang Wen’s after-school program is run by a nonprofit group, the Shuang Wen Academy Network, or SWAN, which was instrumental in founding the school.
I’m going to let the notion of a “boutique” public school go, and focus more on the idea of how this bi-lingual public school is structured. Apparently, Shuang Wen’s daily curriculum is almost entirely taught in English; the Mandarin-language education comes as part of an after-school program, which is technically voluntary, but strikes me as less so (what’s the point of going to a bi-lingual, English-Mandarin school if you’re not going to study Mandarin?). When the school first opened, the after-school language instruction was free, and as mentioned in the quote above, administered by a non-profit that was instrumental in founding the school in the first place.
Now, though, with the recession, and New York’s dire financial situation, state funding for the program has been cut, and the non-profit is requiring families to pay as much as $1000 to participate in the program, which, again, is only nominally voluntary. It should also be pointed out that the school is located on New York’s Lower East Side, a predominantly low-income neighborhood.
Let me repeat: $1000 fee for a public school. Granted, this is far cheaper than what a private school would charge for the same education, but still: this is a public school in a poor neighborhood that is charging students to deliver the bi-lingual education that is the basis for the school’s existence.