School Choice

Charter School Supporters Hold a Massive Rally in New York City

Protesters demand "Great Schools Now."

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In the latest show of its political and organizational muscle, New York's school choice movement held a rally in lower Manhattan this morning to draw attention to a recent report by the non-profit Families for Excellent Schools, which found that 1 out of 4 traditional public schools in New York City are failing. (Ninety percent of students in these failing schools score below grade level in both reading and math, the report found.)

There were about 21,000 protesters, according to the organizers, made up primarily of charter school kids, parents, and teachers. They held signs demanding "Great Schools Now" and wore red shirts bearing the rally's slogan, "Don't Steal Possible." A handful of state lawmakers were on hand to show their support, including Senate co-Majority Leader Jeff Klein (D-Dist. 34), Assemblyman Marcos Crespo (D-Dist. 85), and Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez (D-Dist. 68).

Annaly Lopez, a 26-year-old single mother whose daughter, Renee, fled a traditional public school to attend Success Academy, the city's largest charter network, was among the protesters. (I profiled Lopez for Reason back in April.)

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Nearby, two counter-protesters from New York Communities for Change, a nonprofit affiilated with the United Federation of Teachers, held a banner that said, "Reveal Your Donors. Wall St? Wal-Mart?" Elzora Cleveland, a parent leader with the group, released a prepared statement, calling for an end to the "pretense." 

"It's the same super-rich hedge fund donors who are against Mayor de Blasio's progressive agenda and are pushing a right wing agenda in Albany," said Cleveland—a characterization that seemed at odds with the bulging crowd of students and parents. "[They] are all for handing more and more unaccountable dollars to charter schools only because they stand to make a profit."

The rally is the latest in a series of protests by charter supporters. A year ago, advocates led a pro-charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, followed by a rally in Albany on March 4 that led to the passage of a new state law which made it easier to open and operate new charters in New York.

In a shift in focus, today's event was geared towards bringing more attention to the shortcomings of traditional

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public schools. In a recent (soon to be released) interview, Eva Moskowitz—the founder and CEO of Success Academy and the most prominent figure in New York's charter movement—told Reason's Nick Gillespie: "I feel personally that I have not done enough to shine light on [why traditional schools haven't worked] and the stakes for kids." This week, Moskowitz announced that Success Academy's charter network (which includes some of the highest scoring schools in the state) will hold a free professional development workshop for traditional public school principals.

I covered the rally in Albany last March for Reason TV, and looked at roots of the ongoing polical feud between Eva Moskowitz and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D):