About 11,000 charter-school students and their parents descended on the state capitol building in Albany on Tuesday to protest New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision to block two new charter schools from opening next year and to halt the expansion of a third.
De Blasio will allow 16 other charter schools to move forward with their plans to open next year. So what does he have against these three schools in particular? The answer: He's settling an old political score on behalf of his cronies in the teachers union.
The three schools sunk by the mayor are part of Success Academy, a charter network that posts exceptional test scores and had five applicants for every opening last year. "You're stopping one of the best charter schools with the highest grades," says Dyreeta Donahue, whose child attends a Success Academy school. "That just doesn't make sense. If the school was failing, then I would understand."
But Success Academy happens to be run by a former politician named Eva Moskowitz, who made enemies with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) during her tenure as chair of New York City Council's education committee.
In November 2003, Moskowitz held a multi-day hearing on how union contracts imposed inane work rules on public schools and made it nearly impossible for principals to fire bad teachers. At the hearings she went toe to toe with one of the most powerful political figures in the city, UFT President Randi Weingarten.
During her testimony, Weingarten was flanked by the head of New York City's Central Labor Council, Brian McLaughlin, who would later go to prison for embezzlement. McLaughlin told New York's Daily News that he showed up because he "wanted to remind the city council members that the entire labor movement in the city is watching them."
They got the message. Bill de Blasio, at the time a member of the city council, did what he could to distance himself from Moskowitz during the hearing. When a group of witnesses spoke about how the UFT contract made it difficult to remove bad teachers, de Blasio was dismissive. "I served in the Clinton administration, so I know what spin looks like when I see it," de Blasio said. "And this is spin."
Two years later, when Moskowitz ran for Manhattan borough president, Weingarten and the teachers union campaigned against her. Moskowitz lost the election, which (for the time being at least) ended her career in politics.
During a public forum held on May 11, 2013, which was hosted by the UFT, de Blasio told the audience: "It's time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place…. She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported."
Now that he's the mayor, de Blasio is doing what he can to please the teachers union and undermine Eva Moskowitz's schools—even if it means taking away the opportunities for thousands of kids to get a better education.
But at Tuesday's rally, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and several state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle threw their support behind Eva Moskowitz and the kids she serves. Because many of the rules and funds governing charters are set at the state level, Cuomo in many ways has more control over the issue than de Blasio—and he may intervene and provide the funding that Moskowitz' schools need to open after all.
New York's battle over school choice is just getting started—and nobody has more at stake than the parents and kids who may be forced to return to their failing district schools next fall.
About 5 minutes.
Produced, written, and narrated by Jim Epstein.
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