Mayor Bill de Blasio won. New York City families lost. Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie get, straight from my hometown, a big fat Bronx cheer.
Early Thursday morning the Senate approved a bill that grants NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio two more years of control of the city’s troubled school system. That’s fine. Few people believe that a return to the dysfunctional system of 32 different community school boards is preferable to mayoral control. But during the last year, ever since the Mayor meekly crawled to Albany to beg for a one-year extension, the sticking point in negotiations over the renewal of mayoral control has been the urgency of expanding NYC’s public charter school sector, de Blasio’s favorite whipping boy, which now serves one out of ten students in NYC, most of them poor and of color.
Yet that urgency evaporated into Albany’s thin air as legislators voted for an uninterrupted summer recess and against the educational needs of the largest school system in the country. Forty thousand children sit on charter waiting lists, desperate to escape traditional schools like P.S. 192 in Manhattan where 2% of students are on grade level for reading and math; like Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx where 3.2% of high school graduates are deemed college and career-ready; like Holcombe L. Rucker School of Community Research, also in the Bronx, with its 59% graduation rate.
Two months ago Flanagan told the Daily News that “there is a crying need on behalf of parents to make sure their kids get a good education” but “one of the things that the city has continued to do is basically flout the law and make sure that charter schools have unbelievable difficulties trying to secure space.” In a statement released less than two weeks ago, Flanagan said,“denying charters the ability to grow and preventing parents’ ability to choose would shut the door on 20 years of proven gains in academic achievement. We cannot allow that to happen, and will not grant a long-term extension of mayoral control without first ensuring that all students have opportunities.”
Yet Flanagan folded.
This past January, Gov. Cuomo described the urgency of lifting the State’s charter school cap, which right now allows only an additional 23 public charter schools to open in the City. James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, applauded the Governor’s “deep understanding and appreciation” of “the important role charter schools play in the public education system, particularly for the highest needs students.”
Yet Cuomo folded.
A winner in this adult-centric. academically-blind charade is Assemblyman Heastie, clinging tight to his patrons at the NYS teacher union. Another winner is Mayor de Blasio, whom the Wall Street Journal just described as a “wholly-owned subsidiary of the teachers union” who “has used mayoral control to erect barriers to charters at every opportunity,” (Today the Post reports that de Blasio promised the Legislature to be less resistant to sharing unused DOE space with charters; we’ll take bets on that.) And, of course, the union itself is a winner, carving another notch on its belt to showcase its success in retaining market share, regardless of the needs of students relegated to Banana Kelly High School.
The Senate had an easy opportunity to support NYC families. All its members had to do was extend the Mayor’s control of city schools — hey, make it three years! — and, in an addendum, lift the charter cap which only, after all, only affects NYC. Instead, it chose to go small and go home. Ultimately, adults are the winners. The losers are NYC’s schoolchildren and their families..