Council Members Wary of Criticizing de Blasio at Anti-Charter Rally [UPDATED]

Council Members Wary of Criticizing de Blasio at Anti-Charter Rally [UPDATED]

Council Members Wary of Criticizing de Blasio at Anti-Charter Rally
March 27, 2014

In advance of the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo finalizing the state budget, the Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road NY, and several New York City Councilmembers held a rally today outside of the city's Department of Education headquarters hoping to influence the state's leaders to cut charter school aid.

Sparking the group's ire was Cuomo's perceived favoritism toward charter schools in the form of a potential increase in state aid to charter programs. AQE put out a report that showed that giving $50 to $100 million in aid to charters would provide 2.5 to 5 times as much per charter school student as the current budget agreement would add per public school student, though the report qualified those numbers by pointing out that they had not been finalized in the state budget.

Some of the speakers at the rally also alluded to the recent introduction in the State Senate of the Education Investment Incentive Act as evidence that the charter lobby is winning the currect battle over education policy in Albany. That bill would provide incentives in the form of a tax credit for donations to public education entities, charter schools, religious schools, local education funds, school improvement organizations and educational scholarship organizations, as well as tax credits for certain expenses incurred by qualified educators who purchase materials and supplies for classroom use.

"They're going to give five times the amount of money to charter schools that we give to our public schools, and we say that is not right!" said Councilman Daniel Dromm, the chair of the Education Committee, at the rally. 

However, Dromm was notably more circumspect when asked whether the wealthy benefactors of the charter school movement might have influenced Mayor Bill de Blasio to strike a more conciliatory tone than he had in recent weeks regarding issues surrounding charter school programs, such as co-location and teacher retention. De Blasio has been the target of a $5 million advertising blitz that painted him as anti-charter after he denied several charter school co-location applications. 

"I think the mayor’s in line with us in terms of not dividing the two groups of parents here and the two groups of students," Dromm said. "That’s exactly what we’re saying here, is the government’s budget should not force that on us and I think that’s in line actually with what the mayor has been saying."

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who during the rally railed against the "moneyed interests" and their influence over state politicians when it comes to shaping education policy, also demurred when asked if Mayor de Blasio might be feeling the heat from the big money behind the pro-charter campaign. 

"That’s a question for the mayor. What do I know?" Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal did, however, sharply criticize the city's Department of Education for their delay in providing information about how much the agency spends on Brandeis High School, a public school co-located with a Success Academy charter school in her district. Rosenthal went as far as to accuse DOE of fudging the numbers to make it look like they are spending an equal amount on the public school. 

"The rules are if a charter school comes in and spends money, the Department of Education has solidly said that they will spend an equal amount of money for the public school, right?" Rosenthal said during the rally. "I’ve been asking every day for the past 10 days for those numbers, and you know why they haven’t sent them to me? They haven’t spent the money, and if they have, they’re noodling around the numbers so it looks like they’ve spent the money."

Update: A Department of Education spokesman disputed Rosenthal's comments about the funding disparity between district schools and charter schools.

"“The Department takes the commitment to provide matching funds seriously, and claims to the contrary are incorrect. Not only have we provided the necessary matching funds, in many schools we have provided additional money."

The agency provided numbers showing that at Brandeis High School in Rosenthal's district, they were required to provide roughly $3 million, but instead provided around $7 million in upgrades. The department indicated that they were working diligently to provide Rosenthal with the data she requested. 

Nick Powell