De Blasio Admits to Charter School Missteps

Image: De Blasio Admits to Charter School Missteps

Monday, 24 Mar 2014 09:50 AM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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New York Mayor Bill de Blasio admits he made missteps in taking on the city's charter school system, saying there can be common ground reached in educating children.

"We made some decisions in the last weeks striving for fairness," the mayor said Sunday at Riverside Church, WCBS 880 reported. "So let me start to right the ship now. Our mission is to create a city in which, regardless of Zip code, your neighborhood public school is a great option for your child.”

The conciliatory words were a marked change from de Blasio's battle in recent weeks with charter school advocates, who have taken up a $3.6 million advertising campaign to denounce him for controversial moves, including denying some charter schools the use of city-owned facilities, The New York Times reported.

The ad campaign is being financed by several supporters of charter schools, including the Walton Family Foundation and hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones.

The charter schools issue has eroded de Blasio's popularity, even though he's only been in office since January. A Quinnipiac Poll last week showed just 38 percent of voters approve of how he handles the city's schools, with 49 percent disapproving.

On Sunday, de Blasio promised to reach out to all children, "in traditional public schools, in charter schools, in religious schools," WCBS reported.

"They are all our children, they all deserve a solution," de Blasio said. "Six percent of our children in the charters, they are our children, we need them to succeed. Ninety-four percent of the children in traditional public schools, they are our children, we need them to succeed."

De Blasio has come under fire from not only the low-income parts of the city, where charter schools primarily operate, but also from the schools' well-heeled backers, and in recent weeks, he's phoned philanthropic and Wall Street leaders to explain that he does not want to destroy the charter school movement, the Times reported.

"There’s a desire on the part of the business community to work with the mayor," Kathryn S. Wylde, president of the business leaders' coalition Partnership for New York City, told the newspaper. "The question that has been raised is whether that’s mutual."

Last month, de Blasio reversed a decision made by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg to allow three charter schools in Harlem to use space in public school buildings, a move that angered parents and advocates.

The three Harlem schools are all part of the Success Academy Charter School system and led by Eva Moskowitz, a longtime political rival of de Blasio's.

The mayor, though, said he was worried having elementary school students in the same schools as teenagers, and that he was worried about the schools losing space for special education programs.

He recently promised to find space for the Success students and said he's allowed nearly all other charter school to use public space.

His outreach to wealthy charter school supporters is meeting with a mixed reaction. Some said they are reassured about de Blasio's commitment to charter schools, but others said they are concerned about his educational vision.

They are also concerned about his support for raising taxes for the wealthy to pay for all-day prekindergarten and after-school programs, rather than depending on state funds.

Meanwhile, Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman, has raised several million dollars for advocacy efforts after de Blasio said during his 2013 campaign that she "has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”

But de Blasio on Sunday said he is not backing down on his efforts to improve the city's educational system.

"The answer is not to save a few of our children only," he said. "The answer is not to find an escape route that some can follow and others can’t. The answer is to fix the entire system."

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