21,000 Rally for Charter Schools in New York City

In a message to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, thousands of parents and students rallied in Foley Square wearing red as a message that they are angry over the poor quality of the New York public school system.

Protesters of all ages came to the square by the busload, some less than 4 feet tall, sporting red shirts that read “Don’t steal possible” and holding signs reading “Great schools now” and “Kids can’t wait.”  In all, about 21,000 people traveled to downtown Manhattan, just down the street from City Hall, for the event.

“The whole school came,” said Angela Sutherland, whose son, a student at Success Academy charter school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, stood quietly by her side.

Success Academy started late that day to allow students to attend the rally.

Part of a coordinated campaign by charter school advocates, the rally featured speeches by politicians and a musical performance by Questlove in an effort to gain more funding for charter schools to give all NYC children the chance to succeed.

“My grandson’s future is being stolen. The New York City school system is stealing his future,” said AU Hogan, a speaker at the event.

According to Hogan, his grandson had received zeros on several exams but was passed to the next grade anyway.

“Every year, his possible seems more and more like impossible. I am here today in solidarity with parents across the city to say to our elected leaders: Don’t steal our possible,” he said.

Families for Excellence in Schools, a pro-charter school group, estimates that around 143,000 of the 1.1 million New York City school children are attending “failing” schools where very few students had passed math and English exams last year.

State Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, one of three elected officials to attend the rally, said that while he would make a push for increased funding, the effort to increase the cap on the amount of charter schools probably would not go through.

Mayor de Blasio responded to the rally with an email to supporters reminding them of a speech he had given concerning education in March at Riverside Church.

“We have a crisis when it comes to education. The answer is not to find an escape route that some can follow and others can’t. The answer is to fix the entire system,” he said.

Protesters rallied in support of charter schools on the Brooklyn Bridge last fall when de Blasio was running for Mayor.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg had been an outspoken supporter of charter schools, but de Blasio shows his support in a more quiet, and conditional, manner.

The campaign for charter schools this year includes a website, a social media campaign, and the rally at Foley Square.  Other than its issue with struggling NYC public schools, the campaign has not listed any specific goals.