Parents, students, and teachers packed the street in front of City Hall Park on Tuesday morning to rally support for raising the cap on public charter schools in the city, especially in Black and brown communities.
According to NYC Charter School Center research, an estimated 141,000 students are enrolled in New York City’s 275 charter schools. Of them, 49% are identified as Black and 41% Latino, more than 80% are considered economically disadvantaged, about 9% live in temporary housing, and about 9% are English Language Learners (ELL).
Assemblymember John Zaccaro Jr., a proud public school graduate and parent of a charter school student, said that the legislature is starting to have this conversation now but it’s been happening silently for years.
“I’m just here, lending my voice with parents, with students, with teachers, with administrators and operators, and saying that we need options,” said Zaccaro. “In a society today where we talk about equity, where we’re giving options across the board and (in) all fields of life, education shouldn’t be one that we have to fight for.”
A recent poll from Democrats for Education Reform New York (DFER NY) showed that voters have a favorable view of public charter schools. Polling results said that 51% of Democratic respondents support raising the cap.
On the frontline of the rally were other Black and brown parents and advocates sharing personal stories on behalf of their students.
Harlem public charter parent Kathryn Marrow, who has a son in the 11th grade who attends a KIPP NYC school, said a charter school did nothing but benefit her son. The small classroom sizes, job placement, credible counselors, and teachers helped him to succeed. “He said, ‘Mama, when you go down there, you let them know, you tell the governor we need our charter schools,’” Marrow told the crowd.
East New York native Anyta Brown, the grandparent of a Brooklyn public charter school student and president/chairperson of ENY StudentFirst, is adamant about raising the cap to give children better options. “I want to tell the state Albany legislators that you ought to be for the people and not the politicians,” said Brown. “I have grands and I have great grands, and have seen the struggle in the educational system for them. I stood there and I fought.”
Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, founder and managing partner of Ember Charter Schools, said that policy-makers and education officials have ignored the vast racial equity gaps in public schools and charters. He said a lack of Black and brown teachers and charter school founders of color only hurts the students. “Representation matters—the data says so, and now, as you hear from so many of us, the community, the people say so as well,” said Id-Din.
Crystal McQueen-Taylor, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, said the argument over charter schools boils down to a parent’s right to choose where to send their children to school.
“I think a lot of that charter versus district it a little bit of a made-up argument that has become highly politicized,” she said. “We have families (who) have kids who are making a decision about a public school for one kid and a charter school for another kid. Different kids need different things. Choice should not be only for folks who can afford it, who can move to the right districts.”
McQueen-Taylor said most of the conversations held have been with assembly members but she believes that “politics is getting in the way of making the right decisions.”
Governor Kathy Hochul has already proposed lifting the state’s cap on charter schools regionally and filling vacant “zombie” schools. Mayor Eric Adams has publicly supported the move, provided the state has financial aid to cover the additional $1.3 billion a year it would cost the city to fully implement Hochul’s plan.
Assemblymember Brian Cunningham is firmly on the side of providing parents with as many options as possible to better educate children. With Hochul’s plan to build 800,000 units of new housing, he said, there should be infrastructure plans that include more schools to accommodate families who will potentially occupy those spaces.
“I think I’ve been pretty clear (in) saying that a woman has the right to make a decision whether or not she brings a child into the world, and she also gets to decide where she educates a child or the parents have that right,” Cunningham said at the rally.
Reportedly, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is opposed to the mayor’s support of charter schools and his administration has faced backlash when co-locating charters within traditional public schools.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.