Competing Albany Rallies for Pre-K and Charters

ALBANY (AP/Hamodia) -
Charter school supporters on Tuesday at a rally outside the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Charter school supporters on Tuesday at a rally outside the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged his support to a massive pro-charter school rally Tuesday at the state Capitol as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio urged one more push in the state Legislature for his beleaguered pre-kindergarten funding plan — underscoring the political differences between the two powerful Democrats.

De Blasio came to Albany to highlight his proposal to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers to fund universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle schoolers. Even as de Blasio spoke to a few hundred people at an Albany armory, Cuomo spoke to what amounted to a dueling rally of more than 10,000 students and parents on the Capitol steps.

The protest, which de Blasio labeled Monday a “sideshow,” was organized by charter school advocates after de Blasio reversed a decision by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration to give three charter schools rent-free space in public school buildings. While making no specific promises, Cuomo appeared at odds with de Blasio on charter schools.

“The education industry has said the same thing for decades: more money, and more money, and more money, and it will change,” said the governor. “We spend more money per pupil than any state in the nation; we’re number 32 in results. It’s not just about putting more money in the public school system, it’s trying something new, and that’s what charter schools are all about.”

De Blasio was elected in part on his platform to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers to fund universal pre-kindergarten and expanded after-school programs for middle schoolers, but he has run into roadblock after roadblock at the state capital. He needs the approval of the state Legislature to raise taxes, but many of Albany’s powerbrokers have given no sign they are willing to do so in an election year.

Moreover, Cuomo has performed some political jiujitsu, not only by proposing that pre-kindergarten instead be funded through the state budget, but by arguing that giving New York City a chance to tax its millionaires creates inequality for other communities in the state which don’t have the same affluent tax base.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a rally in support of charter schools. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a rally in support of charter schools. (AP Photo/Tim Roske)

Albany’s legislative leaders split their allegiances at the rallies. Senate Co-majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) joined Cuomo at Moskowitz’s charter school rally, while Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was with de Blasio. Jeff Klein (IDC-Bronx), the other co-leader of the Senate, attended and spoke at both.

Cuomo and de Blasio met Tuesday after the rallies.

The lobbying comes less than a month before the April 1 budget deadline for Cuomo and lawmakers. Public pleas for state funding typically become more urgent in March, while the budget is negotiated behind closed doors.

De Blasio is making his fourth trip to Albany since taking office two months ago to again try to persuade stubborn lawmakers that the will of the people demand a dedicated, five-year revenue stream to fund pre-kindergarten, which he argues can only be guaranteed through the tax hike.

“We want to build their future, we want to open doors for them, and what you’re doing today is part of that,” de Blasio told the pre-K rally. “We need one more push to get there. Everyone in this room knows what full day pre-K would mean for our families.”

The mayor’s administration has released a pair of reports in the last week that show that the city can house tens of thousands of new pre-kindergarten and middle school students this September and has steadfastly argued that Cuomo’s plan does not provide nearly enough funding to finance the city’s program.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, center, and Mayor Bill de Blasio arrive Tuesday for a pre-k rally in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, Senate co-leader Jeff Klein, center, and Mayor Bill de Blasio arrive Tuesday for a pre-k rally in Albany. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The charter school rally was quickly organized to protest de Blasio’s Thursday decision to reverse a decision to give three charter schools space — and free rent — in public school buildings.

De Blasio, long a skeptic of charter schools, did allow 14 other charter schools to keep the space given to them by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg. The three that lost their space all are part of the Success Academy Charter School system, run by longtime de Blasio rival Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz instructed her 22 schools to close Tuesday so students can join the protest. They were joined by several dozen more schools.