Hip-hop mogul Sean Combs, better known as “Diddy,” has signaled his plan to enter the world of education by opening a new school in the Harlem neighhourhood where he was born.
The Capital Prep Harlem will begin its upcoming school year with 160 pupils aged 11-12, offering “college preparatory education that develops lifelong learners, leaders, and agents of social change,” according to its website.
“I want to impact the lives of young people in my community, and build future leaders,” Combs said in a statement.
“The first step is offering access to a quality education. Every young person should have the tools they need to succeed. All our children should be able to pursue their dreams. That is something I can impact with this school.”
Capital Prep Harlem - a charter school - will model itself after the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, founded by educationalist Steve Perry in 2005. Dr Perry’s school boasts a 100 per cent college acceptance rate over the last ten years.
Calling his involvement in the creation of Capital Prep Harlem a “dream come true” Combs began developing the charter school programme, and brought Dr Perry aboard, the New York Times reported.
“It’s important to note it was he who inspired our team to come in and expand into New York,” Dr Perry told the paper, noting that Mr Combs’ future role in the school was still unclear.
“It starts there, and the rest of the role will develop over time.”
Parents associations celebrated the news of the charter school coming to Harlem.
“We wholeheartedly support Dr Steve Perry for the great work and advocacy he does every day on behalf of our children,” the New York City Parents Union said in a statement.
Charter schools operate independent of citywide school districts, often in underserved communities, but they are still subject to state testing. They receive funding from both the local school districT and the state. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charter students are accepted to college at a higher rate.
The announcement of Capital Prep Harlem comes amid friction between New York City and New York state regarding the future of charter schools.
In January, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke out against a proposal by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to increase funding to the 100,000 charter schools in the state.
Mr Cuomo’s plan, outlined in his 2016 State of the State and Budget address, proposed a $2.1bn increase to New York school funding - what he called “the highest total spending on education in the history of the state of New York.”
Included in that proposal, Mr Cuomo stipulated $27m dollars to the state’s charter schools.
This would allow for an increase to the per-student cost, which had been frozen since the 2010-2011 school year, according to the education news nonprofit Chalkbeat.
Mr de Blasio criticised this proposal, saying that it would put an unnecessary burden on New York City school funding. “We hold a basic belief that every single child in this state is equally important,” he said, “and we do not support initiatives that take from one group of children and give to another.”
He told New York state politicians in January that lifting the freeze on per-student funding charter schools receive would cost New York City $30m in 2017. Mr de Blasio did welcome the state to cover that cost, however.
Charter schools in New York City came under significant scrutiny this year for questionable disciplinary practises.
According to a New York Times report, the high-performing Success Academy charter school network singled out students who had trouble adhering to the strict rules of the school. One school in the network even issued a so-called “Got to Go” list for students apparently written by a school official.
Success Academy told the Times that the “Got to Go” list was a “mistake” and reprimanded the principal responsible.
A March 2016 report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California Los Angeles found that a disproportionate amount of black and disabled students faced suspension from their charter schools. The study did find, however, that there were more non-suspending charter schools than high-suspending charters.
“While this report suggests that many charter schools with excessive suspension rates are contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline and some are likely violating the civil rights of their students,” the report says, “it also suggests that other charter schools are likely to offer excellent examples of effective non-punitive approaches to school discipline and could help close the pipeline.”
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