Albany Rally Pits Parents, Charter Schools Against Union Lobbyists

charter_school_rally_albany

A battle raging in Albany, New York had everything to do with charter schools as thousands of charter advocates rallied on the statehouse steps to ask for an increase in the number of schools and the funding needed to achieve that goal.

Wearing red shirts which read “Don’t Steal Possible,” 13,000 charter school parents, faculty, and students shouted “School choice matters!” Aaron Short, Matthew Abrahams and Laura Italiano of the New York Post write that R&B star Ashanti was present at the gathering and spoke to the crowd about her support of charter schools. The advocates want more funding per-pupil and they want the cap on the number of charter schools statewide to be raised. The teachers union representatives on the sidelines did not agree.

Around 1,100 union members gathered in a meeting hall only blocks away for their annual Lobby Day, where protesters against charter schools and Gov. Cu0mo’s plan to tighten teacher evaluation and tenure rules had stationed themselves. The United Federation of Teachers head Michael Mulgrew criticized the charter supporters for taking their children out of school and on a six hour bus ride in the middle of winter. He added that the children were being used as props. Charter staffers retorted that the day was a civics field trip.

Both groups were working diligently to gain the attention of lawmakers, especially since state budget negotiations have a deadline of April 1.  While Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed an increase in the number of charter schools allowed from 460 to 560, while New York City Mayor de Blasio and the UFT oppose the measure. As for the increase in per-pupil funding, union leaders say that along with the cap increase, the governor is robbing valuable assets from New York City’s public schools.

Organizers of the event said the rally’s purpose was to draw attention to schools that are failing statewide. Gov. Cuomo not only asked the legislature to raise the cap on charter schools, but he has also asked the lawmakers to consider allowing charter schools to take over failing public schools. Charter schools are privately managed, publicly funded, and most often, not unionized.

UFT members used the day to fight fiercely against the charters.

“It is your job today to take the passion and dedication that you bring each and every day into that classroom and bring them into the halls of the State Capitol,” Mr. Mulgrew said.

Although tension was high, this year’s meeting was less dramatic than last year’s battle between Cuomo, who delivered a passionate speech in favor of charters, and de Blasio, who was critical of some charter schools. In fact, say The New York Times’ Jesse McKinley and Elizabeth A. Harris, charter schools currently do not face any huge barriers, and the governor’s proposals could help them proliferate.

Some of the largest charter networks made impressive showings at this year’s rally. KIPP, Achievement First, and Success Academy were all present in strong numbers.

Meanwhile, teachers from the union meeting nearby ate lunch and then took off to lobby their legislators.

Andrew Silver, 52, a teacher at Public School 145 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said that Mr. Cuomo was playing “the blame game” with teachers, rather than addressing the underlying problems with failing schools, including poverty, low parent involvement and a lack of resources.

“Students are not performing well because of issues in their communities,” said Mr. Silver, who teaches physical education and after-school programs. He added that weighting teacher evaluations more heavily on testing was unwise: “It’s insane. Its not pedagogically sound.”

The charter school event was paid for by the pro-charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, according to Brittany Horn, reporting for The Times Union.  Funded by the Walton Family Foundation, founders of Walmart, Families for Excellent Schools is the most aggressive organization in the fight for more charter schools.