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Thousands pack downtown Manhattan for charter school rally

In what organizers are calling the largest gathering of public school parents ever in New York City, thousands turned out for a rally to support the charter school movement and to warn future politicians that their constituency is a sleeping giant in upcoming elections.

“We will vote and we will be heard,” said Tara Brown Arnell, a parent in the Success Academy network.

Plenty of charter schools stayed home from the rally, including some that did so over ideological differences with the leadership that organized the event. But their absence wasn’t immediately apparent based on crowds that packed the sidewalks for four city blocks next to City Hall.

Most of the parents, students and staff were bused in from one of the large charter school networks that helped organize the event: Success Academy, Uncommon Schools, KIPP and Achievement First.

Organizers estimated that the crowds reached 5,100, more than double the audience that turned out for a similar rally around the same time last year. But unlike last year’s rally, which became a heated protest against a co-location lawsuit, this year’s event was more festive. Face painters, magicians and clowns lined the sidewalk and entertained children while music blared on the loudspeakers.

Politics still dominated the day. Parents spoke about the threat that they believed they faced under a new mayor whose education policies differed from that of Mayor Bloomberg’s.

“I want to be able to have a choice for where my daughter can go to schools,” said Kam Das, whose daughter attends the Harlem Success Academy. “I don’t want that choice made for me.”

The event showed few signs of tension that in recent months has divided the sector. One of the reasons some charter schools declined to attend was the fear that Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success network, would dominate the event. Moskowitz attended but did not speak and spent most of the time speaking with parents in the audience.

The parents also pledged to vote as a base for any candidate who supported their preferred education policies, which include closing down low-performing schools and replacing them with charter schools.

“Do not sign onto the United Federation of Teachers platform,” said Joe Herrera, a parent from Coney Island Preparatory Charter School. “Sign on to the Parents for Progress platform.”