The fight over the future of education in New York City headed up the Thruway Tuesday to Albany, where dueling rallies with some crossover support between them and high-profile speakers brought some heat to the frozen state capital.
Lobbying the state Legislature for his plan to raise taxes on high-income earners to fund universal prekindergarten citywide, Mayor de Blasio held a rally with several members of the City Council in Albany on Tuesday.
“The facts are on our side,” de Blasio told a cheering crowd in Albany’s Washington Avenue Armory that included Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Queens Council members Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst). “The people are on our side. Now, we have to get Albany on our side.”
But across town, another rally was being held, led by charter school advocates, seeking the state’s support against what they consider a war waged on them by de Blasio, who last month cut $210 million from charter school capital budgets and rescinded the co-location of three charter schools slated to open this September.
That rally got the vocal support of Gov. Cuomo, who said he would support charter schools.
“We are here today to tell you that we stand with you,” the governor said at the rally. “You are not alone. We will save charter schools.”
The three schools that had their co-locations revoked were part of the Success Academy Charter School system. One of the schools was slated to be co-located at August Martin High School. The DOE’s policy-making body, the Panel for Educational Policy, is slated to vote on those changes later this month.
“The mayor continues to play politics with our scholars’ future. This is unacceptable,” Success Academy Charter’s CEO Eva Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman, said in a letter to her board members after the decision to pursue rescinding the co-locations. “Despite our repeated efforts to reach out to this administration, we expect to hear announcements in the next two weeks that a few of our approved schools will not be allowed to open for growth. This would be tragic, unfair, and, we believe, illegal. As soon as those rollbacks/reversals are announced, we will notify you and plan to take the appropriate legal action.”
The Jamaica co-location, which was approved in October, was controversial because it placed an elementary school that would house students as young as 5 years old in the same building as teenagers, and some students as old as 20. August Martin was one of the high schools slated for closure in 2012 before a court order rescinded that decision.
But the city Department of Education said the co-location was necessary because it was the only place with enough space to hold the charter in the community it wished to serve — Southeast Queens.
Moskowitz was at the charter school rally in Albany on Monday, along with students and parents of Success Academy schools. She was criticized for pulling children out of the classroom for Tuesday’s rally, though she said classes were held on the bus en route to the Albany rally.
The move triggered condemnation from Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Education Committee, who said he would hold hearings over whether closing the schools was legal.
“First and foremost, I do not believe the inside of a bus is an appropriate location to provide educational instruction,” Dromm said in a statement. “I am also deeply concerned about the legality of a school leader closing schools for entirely political purposes. As chair of the New York City Council Education Committee, I intend to hold an oversight hearing to investigate whether any laws or Chancellor’s regulations have been violated by Moskowitz unilaterally closing schools to effectively force children to lobby on her behalf.”
De Blasio does have Moskowitz’s support on his plan for universal pre-K — though she did not say whether or not she supports funding it through the mayor’s proposed tax hike.
The mayor’s plan would include charter schools like Success Academy, and several of Tuesday’s protesters went to Albany to express their opinions both for the mayor’s pre-K plan and against his treatment of charter schools.
The governor has also been opposed to de Blasio’s plan to fund pre-K with a tax on wealthy city residents. Instead, Cuomo has released a plan for pre-K statewide that would fund it in his budget and implement it a year later.
The mayor’s plan has the support of Assembly Democrats, but the state Senate has refused to consider it, even though it has the support of Co-leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx).
After the rallies, de Blasio and Cuomo met behind closed doors in a meeting the mayor later described as being “productive,” but did not go into specifics.
Just how productive is a question that will likely be answered sometime between now and the end of the legislative session in June.