Opinion: Charter School Battles Leave Parents Used and Confused

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Parents bringing students to school

As a parent of two young boys, I detest education matters being boiled down to a showdown between the new mayor and one charter school operator.

Is denying the expansion of three charter schools really the equivalent of waging a war on children? (I smiled when Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor made that claim.) Who could be against children?

Or is it about choice? While parents are told why the charter debate matters, behind the curtain there are insiders and lobbyists that spin the political revolving door while politicians beat their chests.

No, the latest fight is not about children or choice. It’s part of a shrewd political battle that had spilled over from the Bloomberg era. Bloomberg closed almost 140 district schools while opening more than 100 charter schools during his tenure. Mayor Bill de Blasio inherited the former mayor’s approval of dozens of schools planning to open or expand this fall. After a review, he chose to put the brakes on six new schools -- three district schools and three charter schools -- at least partly due to concerns about co-locations.

Still, based on the talking points from charter advocates, you'd think de Blasio was closing down existing charter schools. He's not. Or that de Blasio is anti-charter. Not true; he approved the expansion of 14 charter schools.

Moskowitz, his former City Council colleague, is framed as the voice of the charter movement. Not true. There is a growing coalition of independent charter schools that have distanced themselves from her.

Still, strategically placed behind Moskowitz at her staged events, are the faces of Black and Latino parents who seem to genuinely support her school, if not her broader agenda.

I had supported my charter school too. In fact, many of us jumped on buses to Albany for rallies. It was only when the axe came down on our school, Peninsula Prep, that we realized not all charters operated the same way or shared the same political support. I also realized parents’ voices rarely mattered.

Politicians control the message and the media grab the sound bytes they like. But today's conversation begs for nuance. The charter school system is here to stay. Most people flock to charters don't do so for ideological reasons: they do it out of a sense of necessity.

During a public hearing on Peninsula Prep, parent after parent implored the city not to close our school partly because the surrounding district schools were problematic. Although my political leanings lead me to be critical of the charter movement's long-term goals, I can see why parents line up behind their specific charter school.

But I could never line up behind Moskowitz, or rally in Albany today. I am more inclined to support the message coming from the coalition of independent charters. Charters not connected to networks make up 99 of the 183 charter schools in New York City. This group says it will prioritize existing students over expansion, and is working with the de Blasio administration on ways to collaborate.

Many parents believe charters are remedies to a crumbling public education. But is that the whole story? Children who sit in regular district schools today, oblivious to the political hoopla, matter too. After all, charters comprise just 5 percent of all city public schools. Their futures merits a nuanced, comprehensive discussion and not a jumbled, political fight that leaves parents used and confused.