Charter school advocates and teachers unions took their fight to the New York state Capitol Wednesday with competing events that attracted thousands on both sides of the escalating clash over state education policy.
An estimated 13,000 charter school students, teachers and parents rallied on the Capitol steps Wednesday to support Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for more of the publicly funded, but privately run, schools.
“We have been told to sit quiet and accept the status quo,” Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul told the crowd. “The real scandal in Albany is where politicians turn a blind eye and don’t fix a broken system.”
Meanwhile, some 1,100 public school teachers gathered at the Empire State Plaza convention center for a lobbying day meant to fight Cuomo’s proposals — which also include tougher teacher evaluations and tenure rules.
“You’re here for a fight and you’re going to get it,” Andrew Pallotta, the executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, told the teachers, many of whom wore buttons with “Fight Cuomo” written on them. “The storm is here in Albany.”
Cuomo touched off the fight with teachers when he recommended raising a cap on authorized charter schools from 460 to 560, removing restrictions on where they can be built and giving children in underperforming districts priority in charter lotteries.
The governor also wants to make it harder for teachers to be granted tenure and to revise teacher evaluations so half of the score is based on students’ test performance, up from 20 percent now.
The initiatives are embedded in Cuomo’s $142 billion state budget proposal — which would increase spending on schools by $1.1 billion overall, but only if lawmakers agree to his demands. The budget is now the subject of ongoing negotiations with top lawmakers.
Many Democrats side with the teachers unions, while Republicans support many of Cuomo’s reforms. Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos spoke to the pro-charter rally; Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie addressed the teachers.
Afterward, Heastie held out the possibility of compromise.
“We’d like to get to a place where the governor is comfortable and the teachers are comfortable,” he said.
Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, who leads a breakaway faction of Senate Democrats, spoke at both gatherings, telling charter supporters that “the most important thing we can do in this legislative session is raise the cap on charters.”
Minutes later he told the teachers union that he supports public school teachers too. “We have to work this out,” he said of the conflict.
Cuomo did not attend Wednesday’s rally. Teachers union leaders criticized organizers of the event for cancelling class and busing thousands of charter students to a political event.
Jeremiah Kittredge, chief executive officer of Families for Excellent Schools, said the rally was a “civic field trip.”
The rally featured a performance by the singer Ashanti. Organizers and Ashanti both declined to say if she was paid to participate. The singer told reporters that she supports efforts to improve education.
“The kids are suffering the most,” she said.