New York Post
July 22, 2009
by Thomas W. Carroll
After New York was held hostage for more than a month by a state Senate leadership dispute, some back-in-charge Senate Democrats are now out to kill both mayoral control of the city’s schools and charter schools — that is, to roll back a decade of educational progress.
In the middle of the night, with no public input, these senators last week brought to the floor a “reform” bill sponsored by Sen. Kevin Parker that would set up a new Board of Education to run New York City schools, permanently replacing the highly successful mayoral-control system.
Replacing the existing mayoral-controlled Panel for Educational Policy would be a new board of 17 members with fixed terms (with only eight appointed by the mayor), no longer chaired by the chancellor. It would control the city education budget, plus the capital plan and major contracts for the schools. The chancellor, if appointed to the board by the mayor, could not cast any votes. The bill also would make it harder to close bad schools and open new schools in existing facilities.
Parker claimed that the bill is not anti-mayoral-control even though it would prohibit the mayor’s choice, Joel Klein, from serving as chancellor — and, indeed, clearly takes control of the schools away from the mayor.
The bill lost soundly by a vote of 40-15, drawing votes from only 15 of the 32 Democrats — but Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada were among the supporters. (Senate President Malcolm Smith and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Jeff Klein were opposed.)
At the same time, the Senate Democrats (who’d promised a more open process) refused to bring to a vote the alternative Assembly-passed bill that would extend mayoral control — even though the measure certainly would’ve passed.
Then comes word that state Sen. Bill Perkins, who represents Gov. Paterson’s former Harlem Senate district, is considering legislation to cap the number of charter schools in Harlem and the number operated by any single charter network.
Perkins, a graduate of Collegiate High School and Brown University, knows the value of a high-quality education — so his flirtation with this idea is misguided.
Harlem has long been plagued by some of the worst public schools in the nation, with parents desperately looking for other options. Perkins himself once noted: “Frankly, folks are fleeing the public-school system. And in fleeing, they’re looking for any alternative.”
Charters started becoming an option for the parents and children of Harlem in 1999. Founding the first charter school there was the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, who served as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s chief of staff during the civil-rights movement. Geoffrey Canada — founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone — has created two charters as part of the web of social-service programs he provides to Harlem families.
Some of the best nonprofit charter-school networks in the nation also have founded schools in Harlem, including KIPP, Village Academies (backed by Mets owner Fred Wilpon) and Harlem Success Academies. Yet the Senate proposal would cap the number of schools that these networks could operate.
These charters, especially those run by the nonprofit charter networks, are nearly the only successful public-school options in the Harlem neighborhoods they serve, routinely posting proficiency rates that top 90 percent on state exams.
Why does Harlem’s state senator want to limit the number of good schools available to his constituents?
That may not be his intent, but it will be the practical result.
The last few weeks in Albany have been trying times for legislators and, more important, for the people across New York affected by their decisions and indecision. Senate Democrats shouldn’t compound this mess by attacking successful education reforms that are bringing hope to children in Harlem and beyond.
Thomas W. Carroll is president of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability and chairman of the Brighter Choice Charter Schools in Albany.