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We Were Born – It Just Wasn’t Yesterday:
How NYCSA Places Ideology Before the Interests of Charter Schools

Leveling the Playing Field coverRepresentatives of the New York Charter School Association have been lobbying against New York State receiving Race to the Top funds, elected officials in Albany and Washington DC have told the UFT. If successful, these efforts would deny funds for important educational reforms to both district and charter schools in New York — at a time when all of these schools are facing draconian cuts in funding.

But NYCSA — and the allied New York City Charter School Center — are once again placing their ideological agenda above the interests of the schools they claim to represent. Their agenda to eliminate the limits on charter school expansion in New York and create a completely deregulated, unfettered charter school sector, such as that in Arizona and Ohio, is taking precedence over the needs of all public schools — including charter schools. Little does it matter that where states like Arizona and Ohio have abandoned the careful and deliberate chartering of schools that has taken place in New York, an essential part of which is the charter cap, the quality of charter schools has plummeted.

This posture on the part of NYCSA is long standing: it draws its leaders from the far right, and they have regularly put their ideology first and the needs of schools last. But it would rather not have that posture held up for public scrutiny, as a recent exchange on the blogosphere illustrates.

The impetus for the controversy was a column of mine published in the New York Teacher on the “The Charter Challenge.” As the title suggests, it was an analysis of the challenge posed by the emergence of charter schools for public education and for teacher unions. The full column has been reproduced as this post on Edwize.

One passage in the column highlighted the role of the ideological far right in the leadership of charter advocacy organizations in New York. I wrote:

Key figures in the New York Charter School Association (NYCSA) opposed the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit to bring fairness to the funding of public schools that serve communities with high rates of poverty and high concentration of need. They brought the notoriously anti-union Jackson, Lewis law firm and its “union avoidance” campaigns to the charter school movement in New York, and they regularly take to the pages of the tabloid press to attack the UFT. The CEO of the NYC Charter School Center, a partnership between the city and leading financial backers, worked on charter schools for the anti-union Wal-Mart Walton Family Foundation before he took up his current position. Anti-union figures like the infamous corporate raider Carl Icahn, who has sponsored a number of charter schools in the South Bronx, play a prominent role in this leadership.

Shortly after the newspaper hit the streets, NYCSA Director of Policy and Communications Peter Murphy, took to the NYCSA blog, Chalkboard, with this fusillade:

The latest issue of New York Teacher, the house organ of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), asserts that the New York Charter Schools Association “opposed” the lawsuit by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity to increase funding for high-needs school districts. This is a total fabrication by NYSUT and the UFT.

Murphy must think that the readers of the NYCSA blog don’t know how to use Google. A simple Internet search finds a number of examples of key figures in NYCSA who have made statements opposing CFE.

Take Bill Philips, President of NYCSA, who described CFE [p. 24] as a “a multibillion-dollar gamble saying ‘Give us more money, and things will get better…’” when he spoke on a panel at the right-wing Manhattan Institute entitled “Should the legislature ignore Justice DeGrasse?” [DeGrasse was the justice who presided over the CFE case and found that the funding of education in New York State shortchanged schools serving communities with high rates of poverty.]

Leveling the Playing Field back

Or consider the declaration that came out of the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability (FERA), an ultra-conservative outfit with direct ties to the NYCSA leadership: it denounced CFE as “an irresponsible and ineffective attempt to throw more money at the same old education problems, ignoring any real solutions that would help improve public education.” FERA is headed by charter school luminary Tom Carroll, founder of the Brighter Choice Charter Schools in Albany and regular anti-teacher and anti-union contributor to the tabloid press. Tax returns and corporate filings have shown FERA sharing a common address with NYCSA and a related entity, the Charter School Resource Center. The same figures appear again and again on the boards and as the officers of these three groups. Murphy himself has served both as an officer of the Center, which financially supported FERA, and as top NYCSA staffer. All three of these organizations, together with the New York City Charter School Center, have received funding from the Wal-Mart Walton Family Foundation and from the Gilder Foundation, sponsored by Club of Growth right-winger Richard Gilder. [In the past, Edwize published a major expose of this network of right wing, anti-union forces, New York Charter School Association, Completely Bought and Paid For.]

Murphy’s protestations give disingenuousness a bad name. Not only is he a central agent in this troika of organizations, but he played a pivotal role in bringing the notorious union-busting law firm, Jackson Lewis, to the New York charter school world. He obligingly provided a cover quote [see accompanying illustration] for the manual they published for a conference to recruit New York City charter schools to their union busting agenda. And while money from CFE that NYCSA leaders fought against was included in the charter school funding formula with the support of the UFT, Murphy and NYCSA have the chutzpah of falsely accusing the UFT of calling for cuts in charter school funding when we say that all schools, district and charter, must be treated the same.

New York City educators were born, NYCSA, it just wasn’t yesterday.

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3 Comments:

  • 1 Patrick Walsh
    · Dec 21, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Excellent work, Leo. The next step, it seems to me, is to disseminate this information and information like it to as many people as possible, meaning not merely educators but parents, but clergy, storeowners, and all members of school communities.

    Most people have no idea of the forces and machinations behind the charter school onslaught and interested parties, for excellent reasons, do not want them to know. I, myself, was shocked to not long ago learn of the place of the Walton Family Foundation, for example, in the charter school campaign. Of course, after I learned of it the role of such foundations the presences of union hating law firms such as Jackson, Lewis and sleaze ball maneuvers such as opposing the Race To the Top funds make perfect sense. How could they do otherwise?

    But there are problems. The first is that such information is simply not readily available – even to educators who are directly affected by its absence. I know. I was one of them. And I was reading all I could about this stuff. The second is that the larger picture — the key place of teacher unions in the unremitting and insidious war against unionism across the nation — needs to be spelled out everywhere every chance we get or make before it is too late. In short, people need to see that the war against teachers is a war by stealth against workers everywhere. As you know, the teacher unions are the last large unions standing. As you also know, there are forces, ruthless forces with limitless funds and limitless access to all forms of media, who want nothing less than to eviscerate the entire idea of people standing together in dignity and decency – that is, unionism. There is no greater example in the USA of such forces than Wal-Mart. They will sell you the cheapest underwear on earth in exchange for your witting or unwitting support of child labor wherever it is currently cheapest. They will enlist you in a war against common decency and the most fundamental human rights and make you think you are patriotic, even somehow heroic, for doing so.

    But most people have no idea and can have idea of such connections and their horrible implications. The American press is, by and large, a sad terrible joke. Therefore we can depend on no one but ourselves to get the word out.

    The dots need to be connected. They are not. We must do all we can, one person at a time, to see that they are. We must educate outside of the classroom as well — beginning with ourselves.

    I’m going to do my bit by emailing this to every one I knows and making photocopies for every teacher in my school.

    Again, good work Leo. Bold and inspiring. Keep it coming.

    Patrick Walsh
    Chapter Leader

  • 2 A Teacher
    · Dec 22, 2009 at 9:02 am

    “One passage in the column highlighted the role of the ideological far right in the leadership of charter advocacy organizations in New York”

    Umm, Klein prosecuted antitrust cases for President Clinton; Bloomberg would literally don rummer gloves to support aborns; so how are they far-right?

  • 3 Leo Casey
    · Dec 23, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    “A Teacher”:

    The fact that you provided a false email address might lead one to think that the actual domain is NYCSA.ORG, and that you are not a “teacher.”

    In any case, I can’t make heads or tails of what you are saving. Rummer gloves? Aborns?

    Whatever one might want to conclude about the politics of Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg, it would seem pretty obvious that neither man is affiliated with the NYCSA.