A fight between New York’s two biggest Democrats underscores the shifting politics of school choice reform — something the left now supports in increasing numbers.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has been a quiet proponent of charter schools for a long time. But his support for typically conservative education reforms has grown louder as the state’s other high profile Democrat — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — has escalated a war on charter schools within the city. (RELATED: Uh oh: De Blasio’s war on charter schools begins)
Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an Independent, had allowed a charter school movement to grow within the city by permitting charters to share space with traditional schools, saving money and resources. But since de Blasio’s inauguration earlier this year, he has made clear that he dislikes the arrangement. In February, he rescinded three promises made to charter schools concerning space-sharing, prompting outrage. These schools were run by a charter company called Success Academy, headed by de Blasio rival and former NYC councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. (RELATED: De Blasio’s favorite Marxist poet blames capitalism, white people for problems in NYC schools)
Soon after, Cuomo met with frustrated charter school leaders and promised to help. He was a silent partner in the organizational efforts behind a pro-charter school demonstration in Albany last month, according to The New York Times.
As a sign of his willingness to be an increasingly public advocate for charters, Cuomo spoke at the rally.
“You are not alone,” he said. “We will save charter schools.”
Cuomo worked out a deal with Republicans in the legislature that would strengthen protections for charter schools.
Of course, de Blasio wasn’t exactly a loser in the eventual deal, and ascertained increased education funding for his main priorities: expanding pre-K and providing more resources to traditional schools.
Joy Pullmann, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News, said de Blasio didn’t actually do very much to imperil NYC charter schools, and has come out a winner, in a sense.
“I’m not so sure de Blasio wasn’t just using charters as a pawn in a bigger chess game,” she told The Daily Caller. (RELATED: It begins: New NYC schools chancellor will push ‘progressive agenda’)
Pullmann pointed out that de Blasio’s willingness to take on charter schools won him supporters among the far-left and teachers unions, where school choice is most strongly opposed.
But when one Democrat vigorously backs charter schools, and the other does little to actually prevent them from getting what they want, it’s a clear sign that the school choice reform movement is winning.
Pullmann said that while charter schools are clearly NYC’s best hope for educational improvement, voucher programs are also needed, or else they could crowd out private schools.
“I’m sure that’s a reason the Obama administration is gung-ho for charters,” she said.
President Obama has indeed been supportive of charter schools, but at the same time, his Department of Justice has gone after voucher programs in states like Louisiana.