Charter School Supporters Turn Up The Heat In New York

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You might recall seeing the commercial below being played repeatedly over the airwaves this past month. The ad’s originators, Education Reform Now is an advocacy group that is aligned with a long list of private philanthropists, parent organizations and hedge fund managers – all of which are directed by a determined leader in Joe Wilson of Democrats for Education reform. It’s the newest tactic in their plan to pressure state legislatures into making state law “charter-friendly” and position New York to be in the best possible position to receive funds in Round 2 of President Obama’s Race-to-the-Top Grant program.

On the other side of the divide stands State teacher unions and public school system advocates.  They argue that the incremental encroachment of the charter school movement has produced institutions that drain education money from suffering public schools, exclude students with learning disabilities and poor English skills and engage in questionable loan contracts when acquiring space. According to Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, charters are not accountable to anyone thus allowing them to “put profit above education”

Despite the opposition , some people seem to be listening to the pro-business, test centric model that charters offer and their supporters are beginning to see their energies rewarded. Recently the State Senate passed a law which increased New York’s Allowable Charter School cap from 200 – 460 and State Education officials have struck a deal with teacher unions to include student performance as part of the formula used to judge teacher evaluations. The changing mood is not limited to the State Senate; the normally union-friendly Assembly has seen an increase in vocal support from key legislators like Assemblyman Peter Rivera (D-Bronx) who has been recently swooned by commitments to make charters take in more English Language learners and Special Education Students.

As we draw closer to the June 1st deadline be sure to see this debate heat up. With $1000 a plate fundraisers funding lobbyists, phone banks and door-to-door canvassers, the pro-charter forces are hoping to give the Teachers Union a fight in the Assembly – vote for vote.