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Updated April 19, 2018
Internal memo offers candid postmortem of charter fight in Massachusetts
In 2015, charter school advocates had the wind at their backs as they set out to lift the state’s charter cap. A year later, their effort would end in humiliating defeat.
September 11, 2013
Education advocates pivot and spin after de Blasio's ascent
As Public Advocate Bill de Blasio held firmly to a commanding lead in the Democratic primary race for mayor on Wednesday, education advocates and opponents began making adjustments to a reality that seemed implausible just a couple of months ago. De Blasio's closest competitor in the race, Bill Thompson, pledged this morning to keep fighting until "every voice is heard, that every vote is counted." The defiance came as Thompson's own chief fundraiser seemed to signal her own concession, calling de Blasio's 40 percent share of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting "a convincing victory." "I think the people have spoken. They’ve spoken decisively," said Merryl Tisch, Regents Chancellor and Thompson's campaign finance chair. Tisch spent the day visiting city schools with State Education Commissioner John King. Candidates must secure at least 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff and move on to the general election, where the Democratic victor will face Republican Joe Lhota. Thompson, who has 26.1 percent of the vote, has said he wants to wait until the city Board of Elections looks thousands of paper ballots that were collected, a count that will take place next week.
July 9, 2013
Charter advocates say candidates' rhetoric isn't cause for panic
City Journal editor Brian Anderson speaks at a breakfast panel discussion today about the future of education in New York City hosted by the Manhattan Institute. Some Democratic mayoral candidates are calling for a moratorium on charter school co-locations and at least two have said they would require charter schools to pay rent. But charter school advocates say they remain not too concerned. "We should be worried ... [but] I don't think we should be panicked," said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, this morning at a panel discussion about the future of education in New York City hosted by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a right-wing think tank. Merriman joined Marcus Winters, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and Joe Williams, executive director for Democrats for Education Reform, on the panel. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott also made an appearance to warn against moving away from the Bloomberg administration's school policies, which include helping the charter sector to flourish. Republican mayoral candidate George McDonald and Independent mayoral candidate Adolfo Carrión, who have each expressed support for charter schools, sat in the audience.
June 25, 2013
Ex-state senator picked to lead DFER's New York fundraising
Democrats for Education Reform is reuniting with an old Albany friend as it prepares to resume a larger presence in the state. The political action committee's New York chapter named former state Senator Craig Johnson as board chair, Executive Director Joe Williams said. Johnson's role on the board, which is unpaid, will primarily be to fundraise, an area that has lagged in recent years as the state's education advocacy field has grown more crowded, Williams said. "We've got a lot of work to do to get the donor base engaged again," said Williams. Johnson, who won his seat in 2007 in a Long Island district long dominated by Republicans, aligned with DFER on successful legislative efforts required to qualify for federal Race to the Top funding. The most notable was a revision to the Charter Schools Act that more than doubled the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state. Snubbing pressure from his Democratic colleagues, Johnson "single-handedly" blocked an early version of the bill that would have banned school building co-locations and slowed down the authorizing process. Johnson was ousted from his seat just months later, but has stayed active in state politics. He raised nearly $500,000 in 2012 for Jeff Klein's Independent Democratic Committee, which formed a tenuous power-sharing coalition with Republicans after last fall's elections. Earlier this month, Johnson was hired by the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP to oversee national governmental affairs with a focus on education policy.
June 18, 2013
In a polarized education climate, Bill Thompson appeals to all
Bill Thompson stumped at an education event earlier this year. Thompson, seen as a strong contender for the UFT's endorsement this week, has also cozied up to charter school advocates during the primary season. Even as Bill Thompson has continued to criticize the Bloomberg administration's education policies, he has courted the mayor's education allies. Thompson has privately dined with charter school backers and assuaged their fears about what his mayoralty would mean for them. He's taken thousands of dollars in campaign donations from a Success Academy board member and won the fundraising support of Merryl Tisch, a top state education official who helped expand the charter school sector. Most recently, he has distanced himself from some Democratic rivals by refusing to oppose a key education policy that the Bloomberg administration has used to help non-union charter schools thrive. Thompson has managed to stay in favor with these groups even while getting support from Randi Weingarten, an old friend, and emerging as a favorite to get the United Federation of Teachers endorsement, which is scheduled to come on Wednesday (The principals union, a close UFT ally, is endorsing him on Tuesday). His ability to cultivate support from advocates who are often at odds with one another on education is a testament to his political savvy and his experience as a schools policymaker in New York City, political observers say.
June 11, 2013
In memo on the mayoral race, DFER tells everyone to "chill"
Democrats for Education Reform, the national political organization with local roots, is urging calm for anxious supporters who fear that a new mayor could weaken their hold on favored education policies. "Don't believe all of the doomsday talk you've heard surrounding the NYC mayoral race," a political briefing memo on the mayoral race begins. The memo, which GothamSchools obtained from DFER, was sent out internally last month to supporters and funders. The briefing was written in response to concerns raised by people who've pestered DFER to explain what its plans are in the race, according to an email sent by Executive Director Joe Williams. "Since we are getting a lot of questions on this, I wanted to update you on our latest thinking regarding the NYC Mayor's race," Williams writes. The briefing paints a surprisingly rosy picture of the race from a perspective of education advocates who have supported Mayor Bloomberg's policies and often clashed with the teachers union. It goes on to suggest that its allies take a long view of the mayoral race, excuse the Democratic field's eagerness to please the United Federation of Teachers, and take a second look at some of the candidates who've previously been antagonistic. "You probably wouldn't want to be supporting a candidate who was too stupid to try to get enough endorsements to win," the memo says, referring to some of the candidates' embrace of the UFT.
May 15, 2013
Bleak prognosis for education agenda after budget, corruption
It was already slim odds that education would get much action from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature this session after they increased school aid, funded several education grants, and amended the teacher evaluation law during budget negotiations in March. But in the aftermath of a federal corruption dragnet that has brought down several lawmakers, any glimmer of hope that education could get some attention seems to have vanished. "With this legislative session, with all the corruption, I would be surprised if anything gets passed," said Mona Davids, who runs the New York City Parents Union, a parent advocacy group. State Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, of Brooklyn, sponsored a bill to end mayoral control that Davids lobbied for. The bill's long odds grew even longer after Montgomery's named surfaced last week as one of seven lawmakers recorded in the home of former Senator Shirley Huntley, who was cooperating with investigators to reduce a prison sentence. Huntley was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for embezzling funds from a charity she ran. Davids said she believed Montgomery, who has not been charged, has done nothing wrong. Still, she said she doubted the bill could proceed before the session ends on June 30. "It’s May, but it’s over," Davids said.
December 8, 2011
Principals union chief lambastes city's school closure strategy
Among the press releases that went flying after the city announced its first set of school closures earlier today, the one from principals union president Ernest Logan stood out for its stridency. In a statement the length of a short essay, Logan decried school closures as "a losing strategy" that traumatizes needy students, shuts out educators, and prevents scrutiny of the city's reform efforts. Adding eight months to mayoral control's age, he said twice that the Bloomberg administration has had a decade to fix all schools but has not. Nine of the 15 schools whose closures or truncations were announced today have opened since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools; one replaced a failing elementary school just three years ago. Logan suggested that at least two additional Bloomberg-started schools would show up on the second installment of the closure roster when it comes out tomorrow. "The fact is that closure is an admission of failure by City Hall, whose weak or non-existent interventions amount to either a cynical statement of indifference to children of poverty or an inferiority complex about their own ability to come up with solutions," Logan said. The statement elicited a rebuttal from Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who called Logan's statement "embarrassing" for the union.
July 21, 2011
Judge rejects UFT-NAACP claims, allows co-locations, closures
A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that the city can move forward with its plans for 22 school closure and 15 co-locations. In May, the UFT and NAACP filed a suit charging that the city had not adhered to the law and its own promises when planning the closures and charter school co-locations. In a decision released late tonight, Judge Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP's request for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the city from moving forward with its closure and co-location plans while those charges are considered. A temporary restraining order preventing the plans from advancing had been in place since early June. Feinman's decision came just hours after State Education Commissioner John King approved 12 of the closures, of schools on the state's list of "persistently low-achieving" schools. The UFT and NAACP suit had argued that the city could not close schools on that list without state approval. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration's approach to fixing low-performing schools.
July 19, 2011
Donations reflect DFER execs' early support for Stringer 2013
People with an interest in the city's school system are beginning to throw their support behind prospective candidates for the 2013 mayoral race, according to Friday's campaign finance filings. Campaign finance filings released on Friday showed that two top officials with Democrats for Education Reform, a major education lobbying group, donated exclusively to Scott Stringer, who defeated charter school operator Eva Moskowitz in the 2009 Manhattan Borough President primary with support from the city teachers union. Joe Williams, executive director of DFER, gave a total of $1,500 to the Stringer campaign in two different donations. Elizabeth Ling, DFER's New York State political director, gave $150, according to the filings. Stringer was the only candidate to whom Williams and Ling donated. Ling, who serves on the board of one of Moskowitz's Success Charter schools, said it was too early for DFER to endorse anyone just yet and that the group is "continuing to build relationships at all levels."
June 23, 2011
Charter school backers decline offer to apologize to NAACP
A small window of opportunity to resume settlement talks between dueling sides in the charter school co-location lawsuit has been slammed shut. On Tuesday, an…
May 6, 2011
Mayor: schools not guaranteed a priority if city wins more funds
Mayor Bloomberg said today that if he's able to convince Albany to reduce the city's deficit, he won't promise to use the money to avoid teacher layoffs. During his presentation of the city's budget for 2012 this morning, the mayor blamed deep cuts from the state and federal governments for his decision to layoff 4,100 teachers. Saying that it was unlikely that lawmakers in Albany would increase aid to the city at this point, he called on them to trim public employees' pensions and cut programs it mandates the city offer, but doesn't help the city pay for. But if he succeeds in extracting cuts and more funding from Albany, that money isn't necessarily going to save teachers' jobs. "Any moneys that Albany manages to get back to us...don’t automatically go to education," Bloomberg said today. "There are a lot of first priorities. There are a lot of agencies that are very important to the city. You may decide that you need one more policeman or one more fireman… there are plenty of things in addition to education," he said.
September 9, 2010
Cuomo, Smikle, Hoyt, and Johnson races on DFER's "hot list"
Four of the 15 campaigns the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform is targeting this fall are in New York. The group is actively raising…
April 30, 2010
State Senate introduces new bill to double cap on charter schools
The legislative battle over whether and how to raise the state's cap on charter schools could begin again as early as next week. The State Senate's Rules Committee, which is chaired by Senator Malcolm Smith, introduced a bill today that would lift the charter school cap to 460, more than doubling the number currently allowed under state law. It also would require schools to make more of their financial practices public and increase the number of special education and English language learners they serve. Charter school advocates are hailing the bill as a compromise between supporters of the speedy growth of charter schools and critics who argue that a cap lift should come only with changes to how the schools are run. But perhaps the most vocal skeptics of charter management practices, the teachers unions, are crying foul. Union officials are complaining that the bill was developed without union leaders' input and that its regulatory provisions are too weak.
November 5, 2009
Tisch calls on charters to take on city's worst high schools
Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch yesterday called on city charter school operators to move away from elementary education and take on the problems of fixing large failing high schools. Speaking at Hunter College, Tisch said that charter schools have benefited from being the political "darlings" of the city and state, blessed with the most qualified teachers and some of the highest-achieving students. Instead, Tisch said, charter schools need to branch out to serve more struggling high school students, English language learners and special education students. "It's really time for charter schools to say to me, 'I don't want to just grow my own, I don't want to operate in this zone where I am the darling,'" Tisch said. "I want them to dig in and say, 'what can we do to help?'" Currently, thirteen of the city's roughly 100 charter schools serve high school students, though more are slated to grow to include ninth through twelfth grade classes. Tisch was speaking on a panel organized by the group Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century about the future of the city schools post election. The panel also included teachers union head Michael Mulgrew, founder and CEO of Success Charter Network Eva Moskowitz and Democrats for Education Reform director Joe Williams.
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