Competing charter, teacher events shows split allegiances

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While several thousand charter school students and supporters huddled on the state Capitol’s east lawn Wednesday, about a thousand New York City teachers and their backers gathered in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center less than a quarter-mile away.

The competing events showed off some split allegiances as lawmakers negotiate a budget with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, representing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, both spoke at the pro-charter rally.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, spoke at the United Federation of Teachers event.

At least one pulled double duty: Senate Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who appeared at both. (He pulled a similar feat at competing education events last year, too.)

In his speech to UFT, Heastie said he has tried to convey to Cuomo the “difficult situations that teachers face.” Cuomo has talked often about the various “failing schools” in the state, and has said he wants to remove poor-performing teachers from the classroom.

“I talk about some of the schools in my Assembly district, that there’s other factors that should be included when you look at schools that don’t perform,” Heastie said. “To me, it’s unfair to blame teachers when some of our children walk in to those schools because of the problems they have at home before they even walk into the schools. It’s not fair.”

The education plan in Cuomo’s $142 billion budget proposal has been blasted by the New York State United Teachers union — and UFT, its New York City chapter — while being lauded by charter school supporters, who back Cuomo’s call to increase the state’s cap on charters and boost funding for the privately run, publicly funded schools.

Teachers, meanwhile, have spoken out aggressively against Cuomo’s plan to revamp the state’s teacher evaluation system to be more reliant on student test scores, as well as his proposal to make it more difficult to receive tenure. They’re also opposed to Cuomo tying a boost in public-school funding to lawmakers passing his proposed reforms.

Speaking to reporters after the charter rally, Skelos said he’s all for the push to expand charter schools in New York.

“Senator Klein and I both support expansion of charter schools, getting more money for them,” Skelos said. “They are public schools, but they’re public schools that are working.”

The Assembly’s Democratic majority appears most resistant to Cuomo’s education plan thus far, though Heastie said he’s confident Cuomo and lawmakers “will get to a place where everybody can be OK.”

On Wednesday, 25 Assembly Democrats signed on to a letter to Heastie expressing concerns with various aspects of charter schools, including the rate at which they suspend students and the diversity of their student population.

Among the local lawmakers who signed on to the letter were Assembly members Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, Rockland County; Tom Abinanti, D-Mt. Pleasant, Westchester County; Gary Pretlow, D-Mt. Vernon; and James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, Orange County, whose district includes Stony Point, Rockland County.

(AP photo/Mike Groll)

Here’s the letter:

3.4.15 doc #2

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