De Blasio takes heat from politicians, parents at charter school rally

On the steps of City Hall following Wednesday’s charter school rally, the Bronx borough president had strong words for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“The public school system is your system. Charter schools are a part of that system,” Ruben Diaz Jr. said. “All we want from you, Mr. Mayor, is to treat them equitably.”

Diaz was the highest profile member to criticize de Blasio at a massive rally held Wednesday in Brooklyn and in front of City Hall, but was far from the only one. He was among thousands of parents and students who co-opted the mayor’s signature goal of reducing inequality by calling on the city to offer more support to charter schools and improve education for black and Hispanic students, holding up signs that read, “Hey Mayor! End Inequality NOW!”

The rally, organized by the well-funded advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, was similar in tone to last year’s event. It came on the heels of a series of education policy announcements from de Blasio and as the city’s charter movement continues its rapid growth.

De Blasio has been cooler to charter schools than former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has been criticized by advocates for not offering charters enough support. Families for Excellent Schools and Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz have circulated letters recently accusing de Blasio of hurting the city’s needy students by not offering charter schools space in public school buildings — though the city is expected to spend over $30 million on rent in private space for charter schools by next summer.

But if parents at the rally last year were focused on what the newly elected de Blasio might do as mayor, this year’s crowd was already buzzing about his re-election campaign in 2017.

Parents, most of whom had students at Success Academy schools, were generally warm to the idea of a Moskowitz bid for mayor. Moskowitz has said she is interested in the position, and a representative told reporters that will make a political announcement on the steps of City Hall Thursday morning.

“Oh definitely. Oh yes of course,” said Hawa Magass, the parent of a fourth grader at Harlem Success Academy 3, when asked if she would support a Moskowitz run.

Some, like Natasha Venning, the parent of two children who attend different Success Academy schools in Harlem, said the mayor’s attitude toward charter schools persuaded her not to vote for him.

“No, I didn’t and I told everybody not to,” Venning said about voting for de Blasio. “I think he’s full of crap.”

Elected officials in the Bronx, the city’s poorest borough and home to a large share of the city’s persistently struggling schools, have long been split on whether the city should encourage the rapid growth of charter schools, which already occupy parts of many Bronx school buildings. The borough president’s father, State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., has been a longtime charter supporter. Still, the criticism Diaz Jr. offered Wednesday was notable for coming from a fellow Democrat typically allied with de Blasio, and has added to speculation that Diaz might be considering his own mayoral run.

In response, the mayor’s office pointed to the mayor’s education initiatives including pre-K for all, and plans to offer new reading support for second graders and Advanced Placement classes for all students and argued that they are designed to improve all of the city’s public schools. And even before Moskowitz announced that she will speak at City Hall on Thursday, the rally was criticized by the mayor’s allies as a political stunt.

“We believe that’s the path to raising achievement — not just for some students — but for all students,” City Hall spokesman Wiley Norvell said.

The Alliance for Quality Education advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari was incredulous that Diaz would speak against the mayor.

“If we’re really about equity, why wouldn’t you want someone who’s really focused on the majority of the system?” she asked.

But Diaz held that the mayor could do more to find suitable locations for charter schools and to support them financially.

“We want to work with the mayor,” Diaz said after the press conference, but charter schools are now, “a permanent part of the tapestry in the city of New York.”