classroom politics

Cuomo touts charter schools in surprise rally appearance, clouding de Blasio's pre-K lobby day

Crowds at dueling education rallies earlier this year in Albany, two of the many expenses that lobbying groups had in an unusually busy legislative session.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeatedly pledged to “save charter schools” in fiery remarks at a large pro-charter rally staged on the steps of the State Capitol building on Tuesday.

Cuomo took the podium a mere minutes after Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped away from center stage at his own event nearby, a rally to push Cuomo and other legislative leaders to approve of his proposed city income tax to fund expanded pre-kindergarten and after school programs. The governor’s appearance also stoked simmering criticism that the charter rally had been organized as little more than a distraction designed to undermine lobbying for the tax, which Cuomo has repeatedly said he opposes.

“We are here to day to tell you that we stand with you,” Cuomo said, whose appearance was not announced until about 90 minutes before he spoke. “You are not alone. We will save charter schools.”

The remarks were part of the latest round of a political tango playing out between Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on key education issues this year. Already at odds over how to fund an expansion of prekindergarten programs, their ideologies clashed again last week after de Blasio nixed building space plans for three Success Academy charter schools.

Cuomo stated his clearest support yet for the state’s more than 200 charter schools, pledging to back any efforts to protect charters from being required to take money from their per-pupil budgets to pay for rent and other facilities costs. 

“I am committed to ensuring charter schools have the financial capacity to physical space and the government’s support to thrive and to grow,” he said.

Well-heeled backers of the charter sector have increasingly thrown their financial support behind Cuomo, who they have seen as their most powerful ally now that Michael Bloomberg has left office. Cuomo’s reelection bid has received nearly $800,000 from charter school board members and funders, much of which has come in the last year. Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz is among those who has given generously.

Last week, de Blasio referred to the charter school rally as a “sideshow“. Several New York City charter schools opted to sit out of the rally because they believed it would hurt their standing with the new administration.

De Blasio’s supporters echoed some of that criticism on Tuesday. Senator Liz Krueger said she didn’t believe that facilities funding for charter schools were a serious part of budget negotiations and likened the charter rally to one-half of a “dueling banjos” routine. 

“If you want to try to decrease attention to one issue,” Krueger said, “You throw another issue out there.”

Krueger was among several city and state lawmakers who attended and spoke at the pre-K rally, which was held at the Washington Armory. Around 1,000 people attended the event, although organizer estimates were higher. Many of the attendees were parents and grandparents who were members of some of the labor unions supporting de Blasio’s pre-K campaign.

Alluding to the competing education-related events taking place simultaneously, Speaker Sheldon Silver said that the focus should stay on pre-K.

“The boldness, the energy, and the compassion that this mayor has brought to the table is what makes this, up front, the story of the day,” Silver said.

While Silver and other officials said they supported de Blasio’s tax in their speeches, some of their left statements left open some notable wiggle room for how expanded pre-K could ultimately be funded. Cuomo has said he wants the state to pay the way for full-day pre-kindergarten programs, though his annual spending plan for the expansion calls for far less than the $340 million that would be collected for pre-K in de Blasio’s tax.

“I don’t care about the political baseball, or inside baseball, being played here,” Silver said. “I don’t care who takes credit when we win this fight for full-day pre-K.”

Cuomo’s four-minute remarks at the charter rally took shots at the current public education system, saying it is treated more like an government “industry” that supports special interests.

Organizers said more 11,000 people from more than 100 school attended the charter rally, which was filled with parents and students dressed in yellow shirts reading “#CHARTERSWORK” and “ALBANY: SAVE OUR SCHOOLS”. Many of the parents traveled with students from one of the 22 Success Academy Charter Schools that was closed for the day.

The decision to close schools for the day has been a controversial one with critics accusing Success CEO Eva Moskowitz of using her students as political pawns. But Success parents at the rally who traveled to Albany said that they were fine with the decision. 

“It’s a field trip of gigantic proportion,” said Gregory Staine-Pyne, whose second grade son attends Success Academy 3 in Harlem. “I’m for it one hundred and ten percent.”

Staine-Pyne said that students took math quizzes on their bus rides up. “We also had discussions about what we’re doing up here, why we’re on that bus,” he added.

Phyllis Duaston-Overton said she had “no problem” with taking her two children, a kindergartner and a seventh grader, out of their respective Success schools.

“This is the only way we could fight for our schools because they give us a good education,” said Duaston-Overton.

Cuomo and de Blasio were finally able to coordinate their schedules in the afternoon after both rallies ended when they met for about two hours. De Blasio reportedly called the meeting “productive.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.