In New York last month there appeared to be a welling up of concern by parents because the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, had threatened to change course. He planned to turn away from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s overwhelming support for the charter schools that serve 6 percent of the city’s children and move support to the traditional public schools serving 94 percent of the children along with adding pre-kindergarten and middle school after-school programs.
It was made to appear that public support for charters was greater than anybody knew, and it was made to look as though the new Mayor de Blasio finally had to cave in to a wave of public pressure. But yesterday the NY Times confirmed that the whole performance was orchestrated by New York’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo—orchestrated at the behest of his financial supporters.
Reporters Javier Hernandez and Susanne Craig write: “… interviews with state and city officials as well as education leaders make it clear that far from being a mere cheerleader, the governor was a potent force at every turn, seizing on missteps by the mayor, a fellow Democrat, and driving legislation from start to finish.”
In February, after Mayor de Blasio and his new schools chancellor Carmen Farina moved funds from an account set aside to prepare space for charter school co-locations to another account to prepare space for pre-kindergarten classrooms, charter school supporters in NYC were anxious, according to Hernandez and Craig. The charter school leaders were in Albany for meetings when, “as they were preparing to head home, an intermediary called with a message: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to meet.” Later, “He instructed charter advocates to organize a large rally in Albany.” His appearance at the rally was not spontaneous, as his aides had claimed. The governor went to the rally he had helped stage, declaring, “You are not alone. We will save charter schools.”
In reality, Mayor de Blasio had done little to thwart charter schools in general and not much really to curtail the reach of Eva Moskowitz and her Success Academy network that was at the center of the controversy. Before leaving office, Mayor Bloomberg had approved the opening of 45 new schools for fall of 2014; 17 of the schools were charter schools. Success Academies had 8 schools on the list; Mayor de Blasio denied only three of these schools—two for safety reasons and one that would have displaced classrooms being used for programs for disabled students.
But charter supporters struck back with what was earlier described as a $3.5 million television ad campaign. Hernandez and Craig now report that a massive $5 million was spent by charter supporters on the TV ads in New York City. “Charter schools… are… popular among Wall Street leaders who see charter schools, which often do not have unions to bargain with and have relative freedom from regulation, as a successful alternative to traditional public schools… Pro-charter advocacy groups, including Families for Excellent Schools, StudentsFirst NY and the New York City Charter School Center, met regularly to plot strategy. Increasingly, they turned to state officials. A lot was riding on the debate for Mr. Cuomo. A number of his largest financial backers, some of the biggest names on Wall Street, also happened to be staunch supporters of charter schools.” Hernandez and Craig report large donations to Cuomo’s political campaign committee by individuals who are also charter school advocates and supporters.
Charter school supporters got what they paid for earlier this week in New York: charter rules inserted into a state budget deal that includes provisions agreed to by state legislators in both political parties. Hernandez describes the agreement in an earlier report: “Under the deal, the city would be required to find space in public buildings for charter schools, which operate independently of the school district but receive public funds. If the city could not, it would have to cover the cost of renting private space, up to $40 million. Charter schools could challenge the city’s selection of space through an arbitration process.”
This blog has extensively covered New York City’s controversy over shared space and rent for charter schools because it is emblematic of the use of money to drive policy in the school privatization movement. Check out these posts from February 1, March 6, March 6, March 12, March 20, March 31, and April 2. It is important to contemplate the role of money in politics this week in the context of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon, which downplayed its role. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, declared: “Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties.”