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For a third year in a row, pro-charter groups plan large political rally

Parents and students at a charter school march across the Brooklyn Bridge last year.
Parents and students at a charter school march across the Brooklyn Bridge last year.

The political force that marched across Brooklyn Bridge last fall, and later helped topple Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to stunt New York City charter school growth, is mounting a new battle.

Calling itself the “Coalition for Education Equality,” a group led by the pro-charter Families for Excellent Schools announced they will stage a large education rally on Oct. 2 at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. It’s the fourth such event held by charter school organizers since 2012 and the latest effort by the sector to flex its political muscle.

Organizers of next week’s rally insisted that the message isn’t as much about promoting charter school growth as it is about bringing attention to dozens of schools where few students are meeting reading and math proficiency.

“Our members urgently demand access to excellent schools, district or charter, for all New York City kids,” FES CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said in a statement.

But the rally, estimated to exceed 5,000, is still likely to consist primarily of parents, students and teachers from charter schools that tend to belong to charter management organizations, some of which are awaiting approval to open more schools next year. Two charter networks expected to play a central role at the rallies, Achievement First and Success Academy, helped kickstart a social media campaign that is accompanying next week’s event; both networks are planning to add new schools in the 2015-2016 school year.

FES, which formed in 2011, has emerged as the charter school sector’s major parent-organizing entity. Backed by a well-heeled board and funded with grants from the Walton Foundation, the group last year organized a rally in Albany and mounted a multimillion dollar advertising campaign attacking de Blasio after he blocked three Success schools from opening or expanding. Less than four weeks after the rally took place, lawmakers passed legislation that guaranteed access to facilities for Success and new charters in New York City.

This year’s event and related campaign doesn’t appear to offer any policy prescriptions for how to improve schools. But FES is among the advocates that in recent weeks have criticized the de Blasio administration for its delay in implementing a plan for the city’s struggling schools.

Chalkbeat reported this week that principals of low-performing schools are still unclear on details of the city’s plan, nearly three weeks into the school year. Kittredge said parents at the rally would seize on the issue, noting a report that highlighted hundreds of schools where nine out of ten students were not proficient on state reading and math tests. “Parents are looking for bolder leadership to address the city’s failing schools crisis,” he said.

But it could also be the first step in an effort to raise or eliminate a state limit on charter schools. As few as 17 city charter schools will be permitted to open under a state cap by the end of the year, and next year’s state budget negotiations is likely to include a tense debate over the issue.

Next week’s rally will be the fourth installment in what has been a series of demonstrations by the city’s well-coordinated charter school sector. But many charter schools have sat out of the rallies, revealing deep tensions in the sector between larger networks seeking to expand and smaller, independent schools. Those divisions widened last year after a group of independent charter schools publicly sided with de Blasio by declining to participate in an Albany rally organized by FES and Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz during state budget negotiations.

It’s unclear if the charter sector is any more united this year. A spokesman representing the smaller charter schools declined to comment on the rally, but emphasized their close ties to City Hall in a statement.

“Make no mistake, every child deserves a high-quality, well-rounded education—every serious stakeholder in our City agrees on that,” said the spokesperson, Rafiq Kalad Id-Din, who runs Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “Our members are on the ground working hard to deliver this promise and the mayor continues to seek our input on how to expand great options for kids. Let’s focus on making sure that all public schools—district and charter—have the public support they need to excel.”

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