Hundreds of parents, students and teachers filled the Empire State Plaza Convention Center on Tuesday for the 12th annual Charter School Advocacy Day. The event celebrates the talents of charter school students, but also serves as a lobbying event to get the attention of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers in hopes of increasing funding for charter schools.
“Nobody does it like charter schools do,” said Kathleen Daniel, host of the event and a Brooklyn parent with two children attending charter elementary schools. “We want what’s best for our children and that’s what they provide.” Although charter school policy has become a contentious issue in New York City, Albany and districts statewide, the atmosphere in the convention center was positive and celebratory.
Cuomo proposed modest funding increases for charter schools for the 2016-2017 budget, but charter advocates don’t want to stop there. According to charter school advocates, charter schools in New York City receive on average 68 cents for every dollar spent on public schools. They want charter schools to be equally funded.
Support for charter schools comes from legislators of both parties, as does opposition. Bronx Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, D-Bronx was the first to speak to the audience after the Northside Charter High School Starry Knights choir performed the Star Spangled Banner.
“Nobody in this room, nobody who speaks on this podium, and nobody in any position can tell a parent what’s best for their kid,” said Crespo, whose stepdaughter had problems in public school. “Forget the titles, forget the institutions, forget who runs them, I don’t care. I care about the children in the classroom and I care that they get a quality education. I believe that charter schools are providing that.”
New York State Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia briefly addressed the rally, but did not go into specifics on the issue. “We all need to be focused on what makes education work for our children,” she said. Senator Rubén Díaz, D-Bronx, also spoke at the event. His tone was different than that of other presenters, taking a more aggressive approach towards the issue of charter school funding.
“It’s about time we stand together,” Diaz said. “It’s about time we send a big message: either you are with us or you are against us.” Diaz said charter schools were not created for white communities, that they were created to help students in black and Hispanic communities get a better education. Legislation passed in 2010 required charter schools to have targets for enrolling students with disabilities, English language learners and students from low-income families.
“The majority of this room is packed with minority people, black and Hispanic,” Diaz said. “For the first time ever, black and Hispanic kids are getting a good education, so why don’t we fund charter schools equal to everyone else?” As the event came to a close and families prepared to meet with their representatives to discuss charter funding, passionate parents were happy to explain why they were advocates for charter schools.
“We want to have the choice to send our kids to a quality school, where they have a chance to learn and succeed,” said Marie Campos, the mother of a Bronx charter elementary school student. “And we want other kids in our community to have this kind of education as well.