For decades, teachers unions wielded unparalleled influence over education policy, using political muscle and deep pockets to support elected allies and punish opponents.
But as thousands of charter supporters showed up last week on the Capitol lawn in Albany, those days are over. The movement has emerged as a potent rival, using donations from well-heeled donors to mount sophisticated campaigns to boost the publicly funded but privately run schools.
Charter supporters have eclipsed the unions when it comes to lobbying. They’ve also given generously to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has vowed to bust the “monopoly” of education.
On Wednesday, they organized a massive rally of about 13,000 on the Capitol lawn that featured speeches by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, both charter supporters. Thousands of children dressed in red T-shirts were bused to the event, mostly from New York City.
The dispute over charters has become a proxy war over Cuomo’s larger school reforms, with teachers unions accusing the governor of attacking their profession while charter supporters criticize teachers for protecting a failing system.
“For too long parents have been excluded from this conversation,” said Jeremiah Kittredge, founder of Families for Excellent Schools and an organizer of last week’s Albany rally. “It’s impossible to argue with 13,000 parents and educators.”