Aren’t elected officials supposed to represent the interests of their constituents? Not according to Harlem’s State Senator Bill Perkins, who insists that charters are just “hype.” Really? Today Harlem contains twenty-four charters, one of the highest concentrations for an area its size, educating 7,500 of the neighborhood’s 50,000 public school children; another 5,700 opt for local private or parochial options. That’s “more school choice per square foot than any other place in the country,” boasts Harlem-located Success Charter Network founder (and former NYC councilwoman) Eva Moskowitz. And parents want more, more, more. This year, there were 11,000 applications for 2,000 spots; 7,000 students remain on school waiting lists. Yet Perkins and State Assemblyman Keith Wright are trying to cut charter per-pupil funding and restrict a single operator to educating no more than 5 percent of a district’s students (though how this will play out in NYC’s 32 “local districts” is not clear). Perkins also led the charge against raising the state’s charter cap. He compares the mass migration from traditional schools to charters to a burning building. “[City leaders] should tell you there is a fire, and those who are responsible should find out what is causing that fire, not just create a new place for those who flee and leave the rest inside to burn there.” A better metaphor is to say that these charter schools might finally be “lighting a fire” underneath bad public schools, encouraging them to get their acts together.
“Charter Schools Flourish In Harlem,” by Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, March 7, 2010 (subscription required)
“In Harlem, Epicenter for Charter Schools, a Senator Wars Against Them,” by Jennifer Medina, New York Times, March 6, 2010