NEW YORK (AP) — Grammy- and Oscar-winning star Jennifer Hudson, introduced by two little girls, performed Wednesday for thousands of cheering charter school supporters in Brooklyn.
Cadman Plaza was awash in red T-shirts bearing the slogan "I Fight to End Inequality," and some participants waved red flags. The crowd listened to nearly two hours of speeches and hip hop performances before Hudson's brief set.
Speaking from the stage, Zarida Teel said she suffered while attending bad schools when she grew up in Brooklyn. She called her former school, Prospect Heights High School, "a failure factory."
Teel said she wanted better for her daughter, second grader Eliza, who attends Girls Prep Bronx charter school. "It's the school I always dreamed she would go to."
Kimberly Hanley, meanwhile, said her son Jaden just started Success Academy Harlem 2 after attending a district school. Educators at the charter school take time with the third-grader and make sure he understands the lessons, she said.
Organizers, who then led a march of parents and children across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall, say hundreds of thousands of city schoolchildren are trapped in low-performing schools, and they're urging Mayor Bill de Blasio to support the growth of charter schools as an alternative.
Speakers also accused de Blasio of blocking the expansion of the charter sector.
"If Mayor de Blasio thinks he can destroy charter schools he doesn't know the law," said Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo.
The de Blasio administration, which has attempted to curb charters' growth but has not tried to close schools, denied the charges and touted its own education achievements, including the expansion of universal pre-K and the installation of reading support specialists for all second-graders.
"Mayor de Blasio is focused on ensuring that every child, in every classroom, has a future that isn't limited by their ZIP code," said mayoral spokesman Wiley Norvell.
The battle over charters has remained a thorny political issue for de Blasio.
The rally included many children and parents from the Success Academy charter school network, which is run by Eva Moskowitz, a longtime de Blasio adversary. Many of those students are minorities and their presence at a rally on the City Hall steps is a less-than-ideal image for de Blasio, whose administration's stated central focus to help the city's downtrodden.
De Blasio has long been cool to the charter movement, but other politicians have gravitated toward it. Gov. Andrew Cuomo attended a charter rally in Albany last year and the issue has become another wedge in his relationship with de Blasio. And Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, who like Moskowitz is a rumored challenger to de Blasio in 2017, was one of the primary speakers at the City Hall rally.