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De Blasio, charter school backers cheer Albany's budget deal

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is shown with Senator Charles Schumer on Saturday, March 29, 2014 in Queens. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Mayor Bill de Blasio found reasons to cheer Albany's budget deal Saturday, but charter school proponents who fought his plans to rein them in claimed a major victory.

The agreement allocated about $300 million in state money for New York City to offer free pre-K to 4-year-olds, casting aside de Blasio's effort to fund the program by raising taxes on high-income New Yorkers and instead embracing the method favored by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

De Blasio called the commitment by Cuomo and legislative leaders "an incredible beginning."

"What we're seeing so far constitutes an extraordinary and historic step forward -- clearly the resources we need to create full-day pre-K for every child in the city. That's what we set out to do," de Blasio said during a news conference in the Rockaways about superstorm Sandy recovery.

De Blasio also had set out to check the growth of charter schools -- especially those run by his foe Eva Moskowitz.

But the Albany deal bans charging charter schools rent -- a de Blasio campaign idea -- and obliges the city to find space for them in city-owned school facilities or heavily subsidize their rent elsewhere.

Early this month, after a decision to oust three Moskowitz-led schools from public school buildings, de Blasio's schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said they were "on their own." De Blasio and Fariña have since retreated and pledged to find them accommodations.

Moskowitz, founder and chief executive of the Success Academy charter school group, issued a statement calling the budget pact "a historic moment in public education." She praised Albany leaders for "boldly moving to protect the future of charter schools."

The United Federation of Teachers, which dislikes Moskowitz's schools and their employment of a nonunionized workforce, criticized the budget deal. The union believes it allocates more taxpayer dollars for charter school students than those in district ones.

"If it turns out that the public school children of New York City are being treated as second-class citizens, that's bad for everyone in the city. Our students can't be second-class citizens in their own school system," UFT president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

James Merriman, head of the New York City Charter School Center, retorted, "The fact is that all this bill will do is get us closer to parity with district schools, which is, of course, how it should be."

At the Sandy news conference, de Blasio announced a "Sandy czar" to help speed up the city's rebuilding and recovery from the 2012 superstorm. He said that about $100 million in underused programs would be reallocated toward rebuilding homes leveled by the storm, and the first checks were in the mail.

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