After the celebrations and pomp ended, one of the first things recently inaugurated New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did was begin slashing funding from the city’s public charter schools. As the editors of National Review Online put it, this was a calculated and cynical maneuver by the mayor to repay the special interest groups who elected him:
After Barack Obama gave a thousand campaign speeches on Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and the economy, one of his first actions upon taking office as president was to begin gutting a tiny school-choice scholarship program in Washington, D.C. And now newly inaugurated New York mayor Bill de Blasio has, as one of his first agenda items, begun the gutting of the city’s charter schools, which are public schools that operate with some limited measure of independence from the usual education bureaucracies. Like President Obama, Mayor de Blasio is here engaged in plain, naked payback, rewarding the teachers’ unions that funded and manned his campaign by taking hundreds of millions of dollars away from projects they despise. If a private city contractor had bankrolled the mayor’s campaign and been repaid by having him hobble its competition, we’d call it simple corruption. And it is simple corruption, legal though it may be.
This quid pro quo agreement may seem corrupt, but it sounds more like business as usual to me. Indeed, the teachers unions who helped elect him knew full well that once in office he would use his leverage and political clout to advance their interests. This is how it works. And yet the NRO editorial flags a Brookings Institute study which reports “two recent rigorous evaluations” show that charter schools in New York City are outperforming traditional public schools in mathematics and have higher graduation rates. And what's more, charters schools are very popular in New York City, as evidenced by the number of families who want to send their children to one:
Judging by the application rates, New York City parents love charter schools. The evidence suggests they do a meaningfully if not radically better job than their traditional counterparts. They are seeking only the same resources to which they would be entitled if they were not charter schools, meaning they place no special burden on taxpayers. The only faction opposed to them is the teachers’ unions, which seek to legally eliminate all competition and all alternatives.
Charter schools are a tiny crack in the Berlin Wall of the government-school monopoly, far short of the liberalized approach to education we would prefer. But they are a significant improvement that comes at very little cost, and Mayor de Blasio’s attack on them elevates the interests of his political cronies over those of the city’s children. It is low and it is shameful, and the Panel for Education Policy, which has the opportunity to stop this abuse in March, should see to it that the mayor’s proposal does not stand.
As part of the GOP’s re-branding effort, Republicans must champion school choice. After all, more choice and more opportunity for all is what the Republican Party stands for.
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