In a first, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia will attend a rally held by charter-school advocates next week, officials confirmed Friday.
The annual rally is smaller than the massive events that another pro-charter group, Families for Excellent Schools, has held in years past. The event, hosted in part by the New York City Charter Center, typically attracts politicians who support charter schools, but not state education commissioners — which could turn Elia’s appearance into a political football.
“We invited her and she’s coming and we’re delighted,” said Charter Center CEO James Merriman, who said he expects next Tuesday’s event to draw about 1,000 parents, teachers and students. He noted that even the former state education commissioner John King, a steadfast charter school supporter, did not attend the event.
The choice drew quick criticism from the state teachers union.
“This signals misplaced priorities on the commissioner’s part,” said Carl Korn, the spokesperson for the state’s teachers union.
The focus of the rally will be to demonstrate public support for lifting the freeze on New York City’s charter-school funding. The city teachers union, a longtime foe of the charter sector, has already signaled that one of its own priorities is to push legislation that would sanction charter schools that do not serve enough high-needs students. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a close ally of the union, asked lawmakers Tuesday not to lift the freeze.
The education department did not clarify Elia’s position on the freeze on Friday.
Elia supported the development of magnet schools when she worked in Florida and was president of Magnet Schools of America. Charter advocates supported her appointment last year, calling it the start of a strong working relationship.
But Elia, who is in her first year as state education commissioner, has also been treading carefully. Facing a large and growing movement pushing families to opt out of state tests, she has promised to reduce their length and supported the temporary removal of the state tests from teacher evaluations, though she has long been a strong proponent of maintaining high academic standards.