By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hundreds of parents from across the city, including a large contingent from Brooklyn, took part in a protest march to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in mid-town Manhattan Thursday afternoon to demand fiscal equity in education.
The protesters charged that the state’s newly enacted budget favors funding for charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools.
The march was organized by CEC/Citywide Working Group, a coalition of community education council members from school districts around the city.
The protesters marched to Cuomo’s office where children presented a representative of the governor’s with a large signed post-card, with counterfeit dollar bills attached, to symbolize how protesters believe the charter school lobby has engineered a “hostile takeover’ of the public schools.
"During the Bloomberg years, our communities had a difficult time communicating the educational needs of our schools to the disconnected educrats in Tweed,” said David Goldsmith, president of the Community Education Council (CEC) of School District 13 (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights,).
“Now the people making decisions are in Albany and even more removed from direct input from the stakeholders. What does a state charter school authorizer know about my Brooklyn neighborhood? Nothing! And now these folks are in charge! Is this any way to run a school system? As we say in Brooklyn, you bet it ain’t!” Goldsmith said.
Representatives from several Brooklyn school districts, including CEC 20 (Bay Ridge), took part in the march.
The state budget, which was enacted in Albany after negotiations among Cuomo, the state senate and the state assembly, contains details that should make parents whose children attend traditional public schools sit up take notice, according to the citywide protest organizers.
As an example, they pointed to the fact that charter schools are now entitled by law to increased funding, $500 per pupil, from the state between 2014 and 2018, as well as access to space in traditional public schools. Many schools are already operating at 96 percent capacity, the protesters said.
Approximately 94 percent of the city’s public school youngsters attend traditional public schools. Charter schools account for six percent of the city’s public school population.
Charter schools are public schools but operate differently than their tradition public school counterparts. The charters receive much of their funding privately, through corporations and other sources. A charter school administrator is granted a charter from the state to operate a school for a set period of time, usually five years, at which time the charter is reviewed to determine if it should be renewed. Certain measurable goals, including graduation rates and student achievements, are usually written into the charter and must be met for the charter to be renewed.
Kemala Karmen of the group NYCpublic, said voters are disappointed in the governor. “The voters of New York City gave Bill de Blasio an overwhelming mandate to charge charter schools rent. Now Andrew Cuomo, who seems to take his marching orders from the wealthy hedge-funders who donate to his campaign, has reversed that popular mandate to make the city pay charter rent. This is outrageous and undemocratic,” Karmen said.
Ellen McHugh, member of the Citywide Council on Special Education, called on Cuomo to step in to prevent special education students in PS 811 from being moved out of their school to make way for a charter school to move into the building on West End Avenue in Manhattan. “Please Governor Cuomo, be a governor for every child. Don't abandon the most vulnerable 109 students with special needs at PS 811, who will be evicted by the charter school for the sake of a favored few. Where will these students go?” she said.