Charter Schools Funding Harlem Success Academy Politics

Daniel Katz: Eva Moskowitz Is Out of Control

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Daniel Katz, professor at Seton Hall University and extraordinary blogger, writes here about the charter lobbyists’ unethical use of students, parents, and teachers to advance its political agenda of more funding for privately managed charters. No charter operator in the nation has been more audacious in deploying this tactic than Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy.

On the heels of her big political rally last week, Eva now plans to close all her schools for half a day for yet another one.

Katz believes this is an outrage, and I agree. The rally, like the millions of dollars spent on TV commercials in support of more funding for privatization, is supported by “Families” for Excellent Schools, a front group for hedge fund managers and other billionaires for privatization.

Katz rightly asks, what would happen if Chancellor Farina were to close the public schools for half a day so that one million children and hundreds of thousands–or millions of parents and teachers–could rally to demand that the state fully fund the public schools. One benchmark would be the billions owed to the city schools by the state, in accordance with a court victory (never complied with) called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. A different benchmark would be a demand to have facilities and resources equal to those in Eva’s schools.

Something other than money is at issue. The question is the legality and ethics of using children and teachers as foot-soldiers in Eva’s political campaign for more money, more schools, more power. When is enough enough?

Katz writes:

Fresh off their rally with charter school parents and students on October 7th, “Families” For Excellent Schools has announced that they will hold another rally on Wednesday the 21st of October. This rally, which will be held in Manhattan’s Foley Square, will reportedly feature nearly 1,000 charter school teachers predominantly from Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy network. While some teachers from Achievement First, Uncommon Schools, and KIPP are expected to be present, Ms. Moskowitz’s workforce will be the primary participants, and the network just so happens to have a scheduled half school day so that teachers can show up to the rally for the purpose of pressuring law makers into allowing more charter schools in the city. Chew on that for a moment: a scheduled half day of school. A political rally. The teachers in attendance.

I don’t know about you, but when my children’s unionized public school teachers take a half day, it is because they are in professional development workshops and related activities. They certainly are not being taken from their schools to a rally organized by a lobbying group funded specifically to increase their influence with lawmakers in City Hall and in Albany….

It would be one thing for “Families” For Excellent Schools to organize political rallies for parents and supporters of charter schools to attend and to use that platform to advocate for more such schools. That is indisputably their right. It becomes much more questionable when those rallies are organized in such a way that Eva Moskowitz closes her schools during multiple rallies, leaving parents with no place to send their children and essentially forcing them to take a day from work to attend so that they and their children add to event’s optics. That is within their rights, but frankly, it is cheap and coercive….

And it is monstrously unethical: our fully public schools would spark legitimate outrage if they organized a school day around sending their employees to a political rally organized by a lobbyist organization. How can it be tolerable for Eva Moskowitz to use her employees, and students, and parents as window dressing for campaigns to funnel more and more public school funding and public school facilities into her organization that she has repeatedly refused to allow “outsiders” to hold her accountable? What Superintendent of schools has such authority?….

Is Eva Moskowitz running a chain of schools or is she running the lobbying arm for her billionaire backers who see the expansion of the charter school sector as a means for profit and as a means to break public sector unions? Public school advocates certainly hold rallies to support public education, but we have to do so on weekends and after school hours for reasons that should similarly prohibit Success Academy and other charter schools from providing school hour props for “Families” For Excellent Schools. Our appallingly lax rules for tax exempt organizations may allow for this, but there is no reason why our charter school authorizing bodies and the legislators who write school law should tolerate this. We need our representatives in Albany to change charter school rules so that orchestrating the participation of students and teachers in obviously political events during what should be school hours is expressly prohibited.

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