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As primary nears, a charter school opponent's story evolves

With the Democratic primary a few weeks away, the battle over a West Harlem senate seat — turned charter school proxy war — is heating up.

On NY1 last night, Senator Bill Perkins and challenger Basil Smikle debated Perkins’ support for charter schools. Perkins accused Smikle of being too cozy with charter school supporters (“We all know that it’s the hedge fund charter movement that has initiated his candidacy, with the support of course of the New York Post,” he said). And Smikle fought back, charging Perkins with intentionally pitting charter school parents against district school parents.

More interesting than the back and forth is how Perkins is now describing his relationship to charter schools. Months ago, Perkins’ line was that he had been an early supporter of charter schools — he spoke on NBC’s Morning Joe about founding a charter school — but that the reality had not lived up to his expectations. Rather than acting as incubators for new teaching methods traditional public schools could adopt, charter schools had become rouge, unregulated agents, he maintained.

Now, Perkins’ explanation for his position has evolved. Replacing the narrative of charter schools not doing what they were intended to do is one about how his April hearing on charter schools directly impacted and improved the state’s charter school law.

Smikle interrogated Perkins about why he voted against lifting the charter school cap and then voted in favor of it. Perkins responded that, between the two votes, more oversight of schools had been added to the legislation, which he approved of. This change came about, Perkins said, because of the hearings he held on charter schools in April. He said:

“We have brought to the attention of the public the need for reform, the kind of issues we believe that were holding back special ed kids, that were holding back English Language Learners, that were discriminating against homeless children as per the charter school movement at the time. We fixed that. Those hearings were very instrumental in making that happen and so I think that we are all moving forward in a more positive direction.”

Smikle: “But my point is though, as a legislator your responsibility is to fix the bill, first and foremost.”

Perkins: “Yeah we did. We fixed the bill by having charter reform and by having hearings.”

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