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In a pub's back room, fighting words for charter school leaders

As a movement, New York charter schools are pretty organized, but last night in a back room of a Manhattan pub, the message seemed to be that they are not politically powerful enough.

The movement’s leaders realize they face opposition from teachers unions and other educators who worry that their charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, steal resources and proactive families from regular district-run public schools. So they have built a series of groups to lobby for them politically: the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence; the New York State Charter School Association; the political action committee Democrats for Education Reform; and even a parent group that charter leader Eva Moskowitz helped create, Harlem Parents United.

But last night, at a happy hour organized by the Center for Charter School Excellence at the Galway Hooker pub on 36th Street in Manhattan for new charter school leaders, center CEO James Merriman suggested that more organizing is needed to keep charter schools here growing apace. (There are now 78 charter schools in the city, up from 60 before the fall, and more will open next fall.)

“Doing very well academically and succeeding at your schools isn’t enough,” Merriman said, addressing a semi-circle in the pub’s back room. “To have a vibrant education sector, you need to have political power.”

Merriman urged school leaders to join his fight by seeking out press and thinking politically. The center recently hooked up with a press relations firm, Knickerbocker SKD, and Merriman introduced its representatives at the pub, asking a few different people to wave their hands hello.

The big fight up ahead, according to everyone I talked to there, is facilities — i.e., securing space to house charter schools as they expand.

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