Early voting in New York City’s mayoral primary starts a week from tomorrow, and Randi Weingarten—yes, that one, the American Federation of Teachers president who has fought tooth and nail to prevent schools from reopening, and to hobble them with crazy restrictions when children were in fact allowed to return to classrooms—wants you to know she’s so very disappointed with mayoral contender Kathryn Garcia’s late-breaking support for lifting the city’s charter school cap.
I’m incredibly disappointed to see Kathryn Garcia go this route with charters. She’s embraced the unacceptable policy of lifting the charter cap in NYC. Now.. Two minutes be4 early voting starts. Wondering why? . https://t.co/QIEhMtuLkM
— Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) June 3, 2021
Weingarten’s gall is remarkable given the fact that for many months she was a leading voice on the national stage arguing in favor of keeping schools shut, before then changing her tune and touting her preferred revisionist history rebranding herself as a longtime supporter of getting kids back in the classroom (which parents don’t buy, says Reason‘s Matt Welch).
On its merits, lifting the city’s charter school cap would be good policy—and popular among New Yorkers. A majority (54 percent) of Democrats who live in the five boroughs polled by the Benenson Group and pro-charter group StudentsFirstNY have a favorable view of charter schools, with 70 percent supporting raising the existing Albany-imposed cap. Black and Hispanic parents view charter schools even more favorably, with 75 percent of Hispanic Democrats supporting an increase in the city’s total number of charter schools. “For the 2019-20 school year, approximately 81,000 applications were submitted for approximately 33,000 available seats in NYC charter schools,” reports New York City Charter School Center.
You wonder why Ms. Garcia supports lifting the cap? There is a huge demand for school choice in NYC (52K on charter school wait lists). Now more than ever after you & others spent the past year blocking kids from the classroom. Low-income kids hurt the most. Never again. https://t.co/kCVrXxUke8
— Rob Astorino (@RobAstorino) June 4, 2021
That demand is not evenly distributed by borough. In Manhattan, the ratio of charter school applicants to seats is about 2–1; in the Bronx, that number is 3–1; in Queens, 4–1. For comparison, median household income in Manhattan is about $86,000 as of 2019. In the Bronx, it’s less than half that. So there’s pent-up demand coming disproportionately from boroughs where families are poorer and have fewer alternatives like private schools available to them.
Charter schools, which are capped at 460 by the legislature in Albany, with only 290 allocated for New York City, and the political battle that surrounds caps are predictable lobbying targets for teachers unions. Though demand is high in the city, there are 94 slots going unused in the rest of the state, as of 2021, that cannot be given to any of the five boroughs. In other words, legislators in Albany are making it so parents of New York City schoolchildren—who for a year have been kept out of school or forced to learn partially encased by plexiglass barriers or sent home with little notice whenever just a few cases are detected, because the schools must go through deep-cleaning that current COVID science fails to support—cannot pursue alternative educational options, because legislators and public-sector unions said so. What parents and kids want remains secondary, even after a year of teachers unions failing to cover themselves in glory.
I’m going in on this one more time. The answer to a year of disrupted, distressed, absent, & uneven schooling that has pushed hundreds of thousands of kids off of the radar is not to have fewer schools people want. It’s to have more schools people want. No caps. #believeinbetter https://t.co/FtQ1eMEhiX
— Derrell Bradford (@Dyrnwyn) June 4, 2021
Garcia, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams are all leading the polls right now, but neither Yang nor Adams supports lifting the charter school cap.
Doing so would be wonderfully sensible policy that’s actually responsive to the needs of parents and children—needs that have been largely shunted aside since March 2020.