Parents and public school advocates staged a dramatic protest outside the New York City Department of Education on Tuesday against a bid, backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and financed by Wall Street lobbyists, to evict special needs students in order to make room for charter school expansion.
The demonstration is the most recent development in the battle against corporate education reform in the city, where "strong-arm" tactics by Cuomo and the charter school lobby have overrode an attempt by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to curb the growth of privately-funded charters.
Calling out Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academy charter chain, the demonstrators blasted her for "strong arming" the expansion of her charter schools, adding that she is "stealing classrooms from 102 special needs students."
On March 31, New York legislators approved a budget deal that provides New York City charter schools with "some of the most sweeping protections in the nation," the New York Times reported last week. Among other provisions, the deal forces public schools to offer co-locations, or rent-free building space, to charter schools.
At the rally, outraged parents and supporters of the Mickey Mantle School P.S. 811—a special needs education program that shares space with P.S. 149 in Harlem—railed against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for pushing the charter-friendly budget, overriding a move by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to block the expansion of three of Moskowitz's Success Academy schools.
"Governor Cuomo is brokering a deal for charter schools that will have a huge negative impact on students in Harlem with special needs," said Julian Vinocur, NYC Campaigns & Communications Director for the Alliance for Quality Education, which supported the protest. Vinocur told Common Dreams that the proposed co-location in P.S. 811 will close three classrooms, a speech room, and an occupational and physical therapy room, forcing those key resources to be moved to a "hallway or other classroom."
"It is as outrageous as it sounds," he added. "Following a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign funded by wealthy charter school backers, the Governor and State majority recklessly pushed these co-locations forward."
De Blasio had based his decision on a set of criteria, including: disallowing elementary schools from being co-located in high schools and refusing to allow co-locations that could affect space needed for special-needs students.
As leading education writer and New York University professor Diane Ravitch wrote in the New York Review of Books:
[Moskowitz] had asked for eight new schools—more than any other single applicant—and de Blasio gave her five. Most school leaders would be thrilled to win five new schools. But Eva cried foul and publicly accused the mayor of “evicting” her students. This was despite the fact that two of the three rejected schools did not exist, so no students were affected. The third was Moskowitz’s request to expand her elementary school that was already co-located with P.S. 149 in Harlem; Moskowitz wanted to add a middle school. But adding a middle school meant kicking out students with disabilities in P.S. 149, which de Blasio refused to do.
To fund her crusade, Moskowitz tapped her "friends on Wall Street and the far-right Walton Family Foundation who paid out nearly $5 million for television ads attacking Mayor de Blasio," Ravitch continues.
The Times report notes that many of those charter school backers "have also poured substantial sums into Mr. Cuomo’s campaign."
During the Tuesday rally, Noah Gotbaum from the Community Education Council District 3 announced that parents will stage another rally outside of Cuomo's office in Albany on Thursday.