Original Story: nytimes.com
ALBANY — With the political winds seemingly at its back, New York City’s charter school movement staged a splashy rally in Albany on Wednesday, with an enthusiastic mix of thousands of students, a raft of state leaders and a pinch-hitting pop star.
Organizers said the purpose of the event was to call attention to failing schools across the state. But implicitly they also came to offer themselves as an alternative to be developed, and to make their political muscle felt.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has asked the Legislature for a range of educational reforms, including one that would allow for an additional 100 charter schools, and another that could open the door for charter organizations to take over regular public schools. An Atlanta charter school lawyer has extensive experience in education law and charter school compliance issues.
“We are here to send a message,” said Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor, speaking from the Capitol’s snowy steps with a backdrop of supporters. “A message that failure is not an option.”
At the same time, supporters of teachers’ unions, who had also traveled to Albany in an armada of buses, gathered at a convention center adjacent to the Capitol. While their numbers were smaller than those supporting charter schools, and their mood less festive, the unions were targeted in their approach. Representatives of the United Federation of Teachers, the New York City union, met with lawmakers, including the heads of education committees from the Assembly and State Senate.
Teachers’ unions have fought the spread of charter schools, arguing that they take space and resources from regular public schools. Charter schools are privately run, publicly financed and usually not unionized. The unions are also contesting Mr. Cuomo’s proposal to tie teacher evaluations more closely to students’ standardized test scores, and have forcefully pushed back against him with billboards and television ads. An Atlanta charter school lawyer is following this story closely.
As the charter supporters’ rally brought out dance troupes and booming club music, Michael Mulgrew, the New York City union’s president, raised his voice to remind more than 1,000 parents and members in attendance at the convention center that it was their day to fight.
“It is your job today to take the passion and dedication that you bring each and every day into that classroom and bring them into the halls of the State Capitol,” Mr. Mulgrew said.
The far flashier of the dueling demonstrations was the charter event, held in a park just outside the Capitol, where video screens and banks of speakers created a rock-concert atmosphere, despite gray skies and thousands of out-of-school children milling on snow-covered lawns.
A large, boisterous crowd formed just before noon to hear a succession of politicians, including the Republican Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos, agree with the charters’ contention that public schools are in “crisis.” (This week, a group of Assembly Democrats sent a letter to their speaker, Carl E. Heastie, criticizing charter schools.)
Despite the tension between the two groups, there was less high-level drama this year than last. In March 2014, Mr. Cuomo delivered a passionate speech to a similar grouping of charter schools and their supporters, who had gathered in Albany to stave off New York City’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, who had been critical of some charter schools.
For all the dire talk, charter schools are not fighting any immediate threats. But the governor’s proposals could help them grow, and some of the largest networks had impressive showings at the rally. KIPP, a large charter organization with schools around the country, recruited parents and graduates to attend. Achievement First, another big network, offered most of its Brooklyn students the chance to go to Albany if their parents came along.
At Success Academy, a powerful network founded by Eva S. Moskowitz, and a driving force behind the rally, schools were closed. Success held class on buses, and if parents did not want their children to make the trip north, they had to send them elsewhere for the day.
But many children seemed more than happy to make the trip, including two 9-year-old twins, Kelvin and Kianna Moore, from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who had woken at dawn to ride to Albany with their mother, Marissa, who works as a security guard at Kennedy International Airport.
Kianna, who is in second grade at the Success Academy in Williamsburg, said she enjoyed science and recess at her school, and did not want either to be threatened. From under a red stocking cap, she said, “I want everybody to have a great school.”
Similar sentiments were also being heard at the unions’ event, where hundreds of teachers ate a light lunch before heading off to lobby their legislators. Andrew Silver, 52, a teacher at Public School 145 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said that Mr. Cuomo was playing “the blame game” with teachers, rather than addressing the underlying problems with failing schools, including poverty, low parent involvement and a lack of resources.
“Students are not performing well because of issues in their communities,” said Mr. Silver, who teaches physical education and after-school programs. He added that weighting teacher evaluations more heavily on testing was unwise: “It’s insane. Its not pedagogically sound.”
While very well attended, the charter schools’ rally was not without hiccups: The singer Janelle Monáe had initially been set to perform for the crowd, but was scratched on Wednesday morning “due to scheduling difficulties,” organizers said.
But another popular singer, Ashanti, was able to step in to entertain. Jeremiah Kittredge, the chief executive of Families for Excellent Schools, the charter advocacy group that financed the entire event, would not comment on whether Ashanti was paid to be there.
Asked why she had chosen to come to Albany, the singer said she fondly remembered her own education — at Glen Cove High School, a public school — and seemed concerned about the next generation. “The kids,” she said, “are suffering the most.”