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De Blasio faces uphill battle over charter schools treatment

By Tom Allon

In his first 100 days in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has quickly and successfully started to push much of his progressive agenda in education, housing and paid sick leave.

He also had to contend with an unusually large amount of snow, and there have been some hiccups plowing certain neighborhoods and deciding whether to cancel school on one tough snow day.

But in the past few weeks, de Blasio has faced his most serious political challenge: how to deal with the expanding charter school movement and what to do with its incredibly hard-charging leader, Eva Moskowitz.

The mayor and Moskowitz have a history together: They were colleagues on the City Council a decade ago and by most accounts they did not see eye to eye on many things, particularly education issues. When de Blasio ran for speaker in 2005, Moskowitz did not support him.

After de Blasio was elected city public advocate, Moskowitz took on public education by founding a large charter school network, Success Academy. She has opened more than 20 schools around the city, in mostly low-income neighborhoods, and according to school assessment exams most of her students are thriving compared to those in regular public schools.

Moskowitz and her schools were treated well by former city Schools Chancellors Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott, and she was able to expand quite quickly. The tabloid newspapers have made her the public face of the charter movement, while their editorials lavish praise on her and charter schools in general quite frequently.

So when the new mayor and the chancellor approved 15 of the 18 charter schools the previous administration had approved — with three rejections from Moskowitz’s Success network — Eva and the tabloids pounced on de Blasio and painted him as “anti-charter.”

Then Moskowitz assembled more than 10,000 of her students and their parents and bused them to Albany. They staged a raucous rally that brought out the usually reclusive Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who voiced his support for charters and not too subtly dissed the new mayor.

Just up the road was de Blasio and about 1,000 supporters of his pre-K tax, but their rally was upstaged by the large charter group being heartily welcomed by the powerful governor.

One thing is certain: de Blasio will have a well-financed, well-organized and tenacious adversary if he tries to diminish the expanding charter school movement. And the ever-tenacious Moskowitz will use this issue as a platform and wedge as she positions herself as an insurgent mayoral candidate in 2017 against de Blasio.

Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

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