Cantor accuses de Blasio of ‘waging a war against children’ in N.Y. charter school debate

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) accused New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio of waging a “war” against children after the mayor announced Thursday that he will rescind approvals for three public charter schools to be located inside traditional public schools.

Cantor, who tangled with de Blasio last month over the issue, has been promoting charter schools and public vouchers for private schools around the nation for the past two years. In a statement Thursday night, Cantor said that New York’s new Democratic mayor has “decided to continue his war against kids, most of whom live in poverty, by forcing charter schools to relocate or cancel scheduled openings. Poor and minority children deserve the best education opportunity possible, not to be stuck in failing schools because of the mayor’s hostility towards helping them.”

When he was campaigning to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), de Blasio said he would reconsider Bloomberg’s charter-friendly policies, including decisions to allow public charter schools to share space inside traditional city schools.

Charter schools are funded by the public but are privately run and often staffed by non-unionized teachers.

The rent-free space inside traditional city schools has been a boon to the charter movement in New York, where steep real estate costs would otherwise price many out of existence. Under Bloomberg, the number of public charter schools jumped from seven to 123 in 12 years. About 70,000 students, or 6 percent of the city’s student population, attend public charter schools.

But the co-locations policy created conflicts within school buildings, and traditional city schools complained that they had to fight with charters over the use of cafeterias, gymnasiums and classrooms. City officials said they reversed some of the approvals because they called for elementary students to use the same buildings as high-schoolers.

De Blasio has questioned why some charters that receive significant funds from wealthy donors should occupy public buildings rent-free.

The de Blasio administration reviewed 49 co-location proposals that had been approved by officials under Bloomberg and decided to reverse nine. Of those reversals, six were for new city schools that wanted to open inside other traditional public schools and three were public charters.

All three of the public charters affected by the new policy reversal are run by Success Academies, a chain of 22 high-performing schools created by Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz, who was a rival of de Blasio’s when both served on the New York City Council, attracted special attention from de Blasio as he campaigned last year. At an event sponsored by the teachers union, de Blasio said: “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. . . . She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”

Two of the three Success Academy schools whose co-locations were voided have not yet opened. The third, Success Academy Harlem 4, is operating, which means about 200 students will not be able to continue attending that school next year.

Moskowitz is organizing a protest at the state Capitol on Tuesday, canceling classes in her schools and urging parents to make the trip to Albany to ask state lawmakers for help.

Cantor called on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), a charter supporter, to get involved. “I hope Governor Cuomo, long an ally of charter schools, will join us in condemning the mayor’s actions,” Cantor said.

In a New York radio interview on Friday, Cuomo declined to get involved in the dustup and spoke only generally about charter schools in New York City.

“I don’t pretend to be an expert on the specifics of the co-location decision,” Cuomo said on the public radio show “The Capitol Pressroom.” “But in general I think the charter school movement has been good for the city.”

Lyndsey Layton has been covering national education since 2011, writing about everything from parent trigger laws to poverty’s impact on education to the shifting politics of school reform.
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