NEW YORK - In an effort to set the record straight and heal a rift with New York State's Gov. Cuomo and charter school supporters, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a major speech on his education policies at Riverside Church last Sunday.
Setting a unifying tone, the mayor said, "We made some decisions in the last weeks, striving for fairness. But, I have to tell you I didn't measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city."
That was a reference to his decision to not allow 3 of 17 charter schools to expand the space they occupy in certain public school buildings because, by doing so, it would have been necessary to unfairly displace disabled students.
The space in those public school buildings was promised to the charter schools by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a strong supporter of the charter school movement.
Usually a charter school occupies a section; let's say two floors or so, of a larger public school building. The sections occupied by the charter schools are off limits to the children in the rest of the building. Mayor De Blasio and the former Chancellor of the Board of Education allowed 14 charter schools to take more space but denied that permission for three charters because they would have taken the space occupied by disabled students.
The mayor's administration committed to finding other appropriate space for the charters but the people from the "Harlem Success Academy" accused the mayor of being against charter schools. They proceeded to organize a big demonstration in the State Capitol and initiated a multi-million dollar media campaign to rally parents and the public against the mayor.
It was a CIA-type disinformation campaign with the narrative that "the wonderful charter schools are being destroyed by Mayor de Blasio." The idea, of course, was to deflect attention from the fact that the charter school movement is being used to destroy public schools.
Public schools were severely under-funded and suffered under former Mayor Bloomberg.
In his Riverside speech, the mayor clarified his position. "We want children to have good options. But good options have to serve both the children they are intended for, while not displacing or harming other children in the schools to which they may go."
The Bloomberg administration set up the system of public charter schools in order to push towards privatization. Corporate hacks with no educational training were put in charge of those schools. Opponents of those moves note that it is wrong to use public education money to fund a corporatized system of education in New York City or anywhere else.
Bloomberg and his corporate and charter school backers blamed the problems of the public schools on the teachers and tried to greatly weaken their union. They ran the schools like a business and in the process, with charters, created another tier of education in the nation's largest school system.
The Bloomberg policies pitted parent against parent and student against student and gave the priority to the charters for space and funding to provide superior facilities. All the while they over-tested and under-educated the children entrusted to them. They gave a "premium" education to the few at the expense of the vast majority of students. The right to a quality education for all children was disregarded.
Mayor de Blasio, who was elected in a landslide, has called for a reversal of those policies and seeks to create a more progressive education system that moves towards quality education for all.
In his Riverside speech he stated, "Despite the good effort of so many, the school system is still broken in so many ways. Our brothers and sisters in the charter movement point to this reality. And I acknowledge that many people of good will in that movement are trying to shake the foundations, and we will work with them in good faith. But we need to find a solution for the whole ..."
I think it is an interesting move by de Blasio to reach out to the parents of charter school children, many of whom agree with his universal pre-kindergarten plan, for example.
The corporate and hedge fund leaders of the charter school movement, however, are not pushing for fairness for the children. Their priority is profits and outrageously high salaries for themselves. They are the people behind those deceptive ads in the mass media that have eroded the mayor's poll numbers.
People behind the charter school movement operate under a double standard. They criticize "failing" public schools but they say nothing about the charter schools that are failing. They protest what they wrongly described as an attack by the mayor on a successful charter school but fail to voice protests of any kind when public education funds are cut and public schools are forced to close.
Mayor de Blasio has spoken about the importance of teachers to the future of the city. They are now in negotiations for a wage increase long denied by former Mayor Bloomberg.
De Blasio has yet to really activate his huge support base in the city and beyond. With New York State's Gov. Cuomo running for reelection, working with the charter leaders and against those who would tax the rich, united action to push for solutions for all the children becomes more urgent. The support base will have to be mobilized.
The struggle for quality education has entered a new stage. This basic democratic struggle for quality education for all can and must be won.
Photo: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio stands with supporters after speaking at a universal Pre K rally at the Washington Avenue Armory, March 4, in Albany, N.Y. De Blasio was in Albany mobilizing support for a tax hike on wealthy New Yorkers to fund universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs. The tax is opposed by Cuomo and the Republicans in the state Senate. Mike Groll/AP