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Email to the editor: State budget protest coverage inadequate

Two weeks ago, members of the city’s Community Education Councils protested the state budget deal outside the New York Public Library and then marched to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York City office. Chalkbeat covered the event with a short post (“Rally against state budget draws hundreds to midtown“) and received the following letter to the editor in response:

Dear Chalkbeat: We are writing to protest your inadequate coverage of the April 10th rally and march on the Governor’s office. Outraged by the charter giveaway that Governor Cuomo engineered with the help of the Legislature in this year’s state budget bill, many hundreds of parents, teachers and students gathered on the steps of the NY Public Library before marching to the Governor’s office. This unprecedented rally, organized primarily by Community Education Council members citywide, in just a week,grew out the anger and betrayal felt by parents and community members at the way the Governor and legislature essentially gave away NYC public schools to millionaire education investors. Rather than sending one of your reporters to cover this event, you only posted a short blurb clearly taken from the press release after the fact. Chalkbeat’s failure to assign a reporter to the event glaringly contrasts with your close and detailed coverage of every move made by the charter operators and their backers. Indeed, you published two different stories on the charter march across the Brooklyn Bridge, three different stories on the Albany rally for charters (though you failed to disclose that Gov. Cuomo was actually behind it) , and on March 29 you ran two stories on reactions to the budget bills, BOTH from the point of view of the charter operators. Even more importantly, you have failed to cover any of the substantive issues and reasons behind our anger, including how unprecedented these charter provisions are, how they apply only to NYC, how they will detract from the city’s already underfunded capital plan and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, while thousands of public school students will continue sit in trailers or in overcrowded classrooms, without art, music, science or therapy and counseling rooms, or on waiting lists for Kindergarten. The very headline on the short ex-post facto blurb you ran on the rally omitted any mention of the charter school issue, Your summary of the charter provisions in the budget bill as safeguards for charters was biased enough to have been written by the charter lobby itself. In reality, the bill forces PREFERENTIAL treatment for charters, not safeguards. There are overcrowded school communities in NYC that have been waiting for over 20 years for a public school to be built for their children, and they will continue to wait, while hedge-fund backed charters will now automatically receive space, on demand and free of charge. It has not escaped our attention that the Walton Foundation helped finance the expansion of GothamSchools into Chalkbeat, and that the same organization is a prominent backer of the school privatization movement and contributed to the virulent $5 million ad campaign that directly led to the preferential provisions in the state law. Your organization also counts among its financial backers many other prominent charter school supporters and board members, including the Gates Family Foundation, Whitney Tilson, Boykin Curry, Paul Appelbaum , Ken Hirsch, Charles Ledley, Kate Shoemaker and others. In order to appear unbiased by the sources of your funding and safeguard any journalistic credibility, your organization should cover the point of view of the thousands of NYC public school parents who, though we may not be wealthy, feel that our children have been dispossessed, displaced, and potentially evicted from their public schools, cheated out of their fair share of space. We, too, represent an important constituency in the debate over privatization, and constitute an important voice to be heard. We are concerned that your inadequate and one-sided coverage of the forced privatization of our schools has been unduly influenced by the same forces that have biased the Governor – the huge pocketbooks of the organizations and financiers that back them. We urge you to publish this letter in your blog and respond to it. Yours sincerely, Shino Tanikawa, CECD2 Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters Lisa Donlan, CEC1 Teresa Arboleda, CCELL Eric Goldberg, CECD2 Deborah Alexandar, CECD30 Theresa Hammonds, CECD3 David Goldsmith, CECD13 Ann Kjellberg Valerie Williams, CECD75 Rachel Paster Angela Garces, CECD6 Beth Cirone, CECD2 Ellen McHugh, CCSE Victoria Frye, CECD6 Miriam Farer, CECD6 Isaac Carmignani, CECD30 Eduardo Hernandez, CECD8 Amy Shire, CECD13 Michelle Kupper, CECD15 Jordan Margolis, CECD14 Debbie Feiner, CECD14 Organizational affiliations for identification purpose only

The bottom line is that the protest was clearly well-attended and unique in its CEC-wide organization, and we wish we had been there.

We make decisions about coverage every day based on the fact that we can’t be at every relevant event in the city or it would be impossible for us to provide any deeper coverage of these issues. We regularly attend, and skip, events that reflect a variety of viewpoints. That’s why we work to keep readers informed about events we don’t make it to with posts like the one we wrote about this protest.

Those decisions have everything to with our sense of how we can best add to the “education conversation” happening across the city, and nothing to do with our funders—who make it possible to do what we do, but don’t influence our coverage.

Other feedback? We’re all ears.