Friday, September 17, 2010

2 Sides on Charter Schools Add Cash to New York Races

Ed reformers and DFER made the front page of the NY Times today for having the audacity (too polite – how about: cojones!) to back three primary challengers to the three Democrats in the NY State Senate who are most in the pocket of the unions, willing to throw children under the bus again and again without a second thought.  It's a long shot to unseat an incumbent and we may lose all three races on Tuesday, but even so, we've won.  These incumbents have had to scramble, the state party has had to pour money into races they didn't expect to, etc., so now EVERY politician in the state (and hopefully in other states where we're active) is now on notice: throw kids under the bus and you can expect a well-funded primary challenger!  Let's be clear: the unions have always made this threat – witness what they're trying to do to Jonathan Bing, who had the gumption to propose a bill saying that teachers shouldn't be laid off solely by seniority (fortunately he's going to win anyway) – but now we can make it too:

Mark H. Pollard was a little-known candidate for New York State Senate in Brooklyn facing the herculean feat of ousting a 26-year incumbent. But then he got an unexpected telephone call saying that a group of wealthy investors who supported charter schools wanted to meet with him.

So in June, Mr. Pollard, a Democrat, found himself in Manhattan, sipping wine on a Park Avenue patio with people whose names he can no longer recall. Then "the checks started rolling in," he said, and by July he had received more than $100,000.

"They made my campaign viable," said Mr. Pollard, a lawyer who supports the charter school movement. The windfall has made him a legitimate contender, allowing him to hire a veteran campaign manager and print thousands of pamphlets.

In response, powerful unions representing teachers and other school workers have flocked to the side of his opponent, Senator Velmanette Montgomery, who has staunchly criticized the rise of charter schools, which receive taxpayer money but are privately run. Ms. Montgomery has received more than $100,000 in contributions, much of it through union channels.

In an election season dominated by talk of reforming Albany, a less-visible battle has broken out over charter schools. With a make-or-break primary on Tuesday, Wall Street financiers and unions are spending huge sums and mobilizing supporters in hopes of propelling their education agendas to victory.

The behind-the-scenes foment has set the stage for a half-dozen combative races in districts that might otherwise have been sleepy and predictable.

In Harlem, a laboratory for charter schools, State Senator Bill Perkins, a Democrat who has been outspoken in his distaste for charter schools, faces a stiff primary challenge from a well-financed outsider, Basil Smikle, a former aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was a United States senator from New York.

In Buffalo, which is home to some of the state's lowest-performing schools, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Democrat, has made his support for the charter movement one of his issues in his primary battle against Joseph Golombek Jr., a member of the city's Council.

Both sides say the stakes are high at a time when the Legislature faces tough budget choices and contentious questions, including whether to continue granting seniority protection to teachers. They also see the primary as an indicator of whether an ambitious education agenda pushed by charter school advocates will gain momentum.

"There is an emotional attachment to the charter school movement that is working its way into these campaigns in a deeper and more meaningful way," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a pro-charter group based in New York.

This campaign season, state governments have emerged as critical battlefields in the effort to overhaul American education. In places like California and Florida, pro-charter forces and unions are funneling money into races in hopes of tipping the balance in state capitols.


2 Sides on Charter Schools Add Cash to New York Races

Published: September 10, 2010

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