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Thousands rally in Albany for charter schools

Parents rally in support of charter schools outside

Parents rally in support of charter schools outside the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink

ALBANY -- The second of two large education demonstrations this week saw thousands of parents, teachers and students bused to Albany Wednesday to support an expansion of charter schools.

"I want to make sure you have the same opportunity as my son and my grandchildren," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) at the rally. "That is what this is all about: Opportunity."

He seized on the rally's theme of "Don't Steal Possible," which advocates say means allowing children to get a better education at charter schools by leaving failing traditional public schools.

Skelos and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said more charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, are needed. They said 800,000 students statewide need to leave more than 100 schools that have failed to meet basic academic standards for as much as a decade.

The state has approved 311 charter schools statewide, 248 of which are operating. They include five on Long Island serving more than 2,000 students. Charter schools teach 92,000 students statewide -- or 4 percent of statewide enrollment. Nearly 78 percent of charter school students are taught in New York City.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to increase the current cap of 450 charter schools by 100. He said the slots are needed to meet what supporters say is a waiting list more than 50,000 names long. Many parents are attracted in part by higher test scores at some charter schools compared with some local public schools.

"We are talking about giving parents the ability to have school choice," said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. "Charter schools are no longer an experiment. Charter schools are the cure."The Assembly's Democratic majority opposes Cuomo, Senate Republicans and the independent conference, which partners with the GOP majority, on the issue.

Cuomo has accused the teachers' unions of protecting the status quo. New York is among the highest spending states for schools, while many measures show only middle-of-the pack performance, with more than 100 "priority" schools failing to meet some minimum standards.

Charter schools were created in 1998 to experiment with new instructional methods, such as longer school years, and to offer an alternative to failing public schools, many of which are in minority neighborhoods.

On Monday, more than 1,000 unionized teachers, parents, students and lobbyists took more than a dozen charter buses to Albany to oppose Cuomo's education proposals. In addition to more charter schools, he also wants to make student performance in standardized tests a greater factor in job evaluations for teachers and to delay tenure for teachers by years.

Those teachers' union members during their "Call Out Cuomo Day" said the charter school movement and its Wall Street benefactors are engaging in "corporate greed" to profit from public education, while not accepting costly special needs students and students raised in another language.

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