De Blasio Eases Up, Charter Schools Seize Opportunity
NEW YORK—Even though there have been conciliatory signs from the new administration, some of New York City’s biggest charter school advocates are still very concerned about what decisions Bill de Blasio will make about city charter schools.
A wide-reaching PR campaign launched Tuesday, and a massive rally in Albany planned for next Tuesday are just the latest in pre-emptive volleys.
Several times during his election campaign de Blasio voiced opposition to charter schools and the way they were handled under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.
De Blasio has been quite specific about what he opposes, namely giving spaces in public school buildings to wealthy charter schools for free, and the lack of public input over co-locations. Co-location refers to moving charter schools, or even public schools, into buildings where other schools already operate.
Later, de Blasio added a complaint—that some charter schools serve fewer English-language learners and special needs students than other schools in the same areas.
And then three weeks ago, the mayor said those charter schools that are not as wealthy are likely to continue to have public spaces for free. He also said some charter schools already do well with serving special needs students.
“I don’t want the pieces all to be blended together unfairly,” de Blasio said at a Feb. 6 press conference.
This Saturday, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña held a meeting with charter school representatives. Although no policy was discussed, “there was a lot of good will generated,” Fariña said, according to Chalkbeat.org.
Apparently, it was not enough to put everyone at ease.
“His [de Blasio’s] campaign rhetoric was very hostile to charter schools,” said Bob Bellafiore, senior adviser to the Northeast Charter School Network (NCSN), a nonprofit representing all 259 charter schools in New York state.
He said charter schools are “taking cues” that the city administration is going to prevent them from using public school spaces.
One cue could be that the city is currently reviewing all 43 co-locations approved last fall.
The NCSN is mobilizing all charter school students and parents to go to Albany next Tuesday to lobby state officials on a number of issues, including the right to use public school spaces.
Even though the issue of space in public schools is decided by local districts, Bellafiore believes it’s worth bringing it up in Albany.
“Local politicians and state politicians talk to each other,” he said. “Sometimes they can help influence each others thinking.”
So far, he said, the response from schools has been good. “We’re expecting a couple of thousands to attend,” Bellafiore said.
The biggest charter operator in New York City, Success Academies, already promised participation. Children and parents will be bused from its 22 schools up to Albany early in the morning and return back in the evening. Children will receive their lessons on the way, according to Success Academies spokesperson Kerri Lyon.
If previous charter school rallies are any indication, there will be loud music and a sea of similar T-shirts and banners.
At the same time, Families for Excellent Schools, a charter school advocacy group, launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign Tuesday to publicize the advantages of charters.
The first spot in the campaign is titled Joe and tells the story of Joe and Joey Herrera, a father and son from Coney Island. Joey overcame a learning disability after attending Coney Island Prep, a charter school. He now reads above grade level and is making plans to attend college.
The spot was created for broadcast and cable TV. It is the first in a series, according to a press release.
“Today’s release marks just the first story we plan to tell,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, executive director of Families for Excellent Schools, in a press release.
“The reality for tens of thousands of parents is that public charter schools are educating their children extremely well, and families are committed to ensuring their schools are treated fairly.”
According to the media release from the group, 93 percent of students served in charter schools are black and Hispanic, with more than three-quarters of the students living in poverty.