WEEKEND EDITION

What’s the Story Behind the NYC Charter Schools Controversy?

| March 19, 2014 11:16 AMvideo

WNYC contributing editor for education, Beth Fertig, and The New York Times’ reporter, Javier Hernández, put the charter schools controversy in perspective with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman.

In his State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would make education his first priority. His signature initiative was universal pre-k, but he also took on New York City’s charter schools in an unexpected way. In February, de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools run by the Success Academy Charter Schools from using space in public school buildings. Now the CEO of the Success Academy, Eva Moskowitz, has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the Department of Education to overturn the decision to prevent one of those schools, a Harlem middle school, from opening.

On March 4, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke at a charter school rally in Albany, pledging his support.

“We spend more money per pupil than any state in the nation, we’re number 32 in results,” Cuomo said to a cheering crowd of charter students and supporters at the State Capitol. “It’s not just about putting more money in the public school system, it’s trying something new, and that’s what charter schools are all about.”

So how did the focus shift from pre-k to charter schools?

“I think we got here because [de Blasio] needed to make decisions because during the campaign, he electrified a lot of crowds, of parent activists, of educators with these promises to roll back the Bloomberg administration’s policies,” Javier Hernández, education reporter for The New York Times, said. “One of those easy targets was charter schools. And so he needed to send a message when he came into office that he was a different mayor, that he was going attack a different course on education.”

Beth Fertig, contributing editor for education at WNYC, told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman that the focus on the city’s charter schools may have become a harmful distraction for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Charter schools, while they are privately operated and there are critics who believe they are taking money away from the regular public school system, they do have an enormous population of low-income, black and Hispanic students, the face of the New York City public schools, who believe that they are very good options and want them,” Fertig said. “And so when the mayor says he’s not going to allow some to open, people who want the charters are very upset and those are people in his own base.”

On March 3, de Blasio defended his stance on charter and public schools at a press conference about expanding after-school programs.

“The underlying concept is that kids have to find a different alternative because their zone school, for example, isn’t sufficient. That’s not an acceptable state of affairs in New York City,” de Blasio said. “So we’re embarking on a series of very big changes looking to the day when, in any neighborhood in this city, in any zip code, you can find a good-quality local school.”

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