The Corner

NYC School Choice March Draws 17,000 Plus

From Tuesday morning to afternoon over 17,000 parents, students, teachers, and supporters marched on New York’s City Hall demanding that Democratic mayoral candidate and front-runner Bill de Blasio treat charter schools equal to public schools and allow for school choice. The march began at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t end until later Tuesday afternoon, at one point stretching across the Brooklyn Bridge from City Hall to Brooklyn.

When I asked the marchers what they were advocating, they all responded with a simple message: City Hall should treat charter schools the same as public schools. By far their biggest worry was that de Blasio would follow through on plans to begin charging charter schools rent for using city-owned buildings. Unlike many charter schools across the nation, most New York City charter schools operate in public school buildings free of charge. Parents who send their kids to charter schools — many of which are in low-income, troubled areas of the city — worry that by charging rent the city government would effectively force the charter schools to close, relegating students to underperforming public schools with no alternative.

Parents, students, and teachers at the march praised the charter schools they were associated with. When I asked one group of students if they liked their schools, they immediately screamed back at me “Yes!” One girl told me that she definitely did not want to go to public school. “I want to keep my school,” she said, “because my school’s a really good school and they teach me well.” Parents were even more adamant than their children, praising the positive qualities of their children’s charter schools and the benefits such an education will provide for succeeding in high school and beyond. “These schools do especially well with the little kids,” one woman told me. “I know one thing, when they reach high school, college will not be a problem to get in to,” she said, adding that she hopes the New York City charter school program will be expanded.

As the mayoral race enters its final days, school choice is one of the many issues de Blasio and his Republican opponent, Joe Lhota, have greatly divergent views on. De Blasio desires to limit charter-school growth while creating extra oversight to evaluate the schools’ success. He believes charter schools are privatizing education and should therefore not receive the same rent-exempt status as their public counterparts.  Lhota opposes charging charter schools rent and wishes to expand the charter school program, allowing the schools to move into vacant buildings, for example, unused Catholic schools.

Despite the two candidates’ great policy differences, most marchers I spoke with still support de Blasio. Though a few expressed misgivings about (or downright disliked) de Blasio, the majority support most of the Democratic candidate’s other policy initiatives and were marching to force de Blasio to change his opinion on school choice alone.

Success Academies Charter Schools, officials of which acted as organizers during the march, estimated the crowd at 17,000 by counting as people entered the Brooklyn Bridge. They initially expected 10,000 to show up in support.

After the jump are a few pictures of the march:

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