New Schools for Phoenix is a campaign to open 25 “A”-rated schools in Phoenix’s urban core by 2020. Launched by the Arizona Charter Schools Association, a group of motivated educational leaders – including the association’s president and CEO Eileen Sigmund – has looked at an area of greatest need and asked, “How can we help?”
Over 2,000 miles away in New York City, the city’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, is charting a much different course on education. De Blasio has devoted the early days of his administration to surveying his city’s areas of greatest educational need and asking, “How can I hurt?”
Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, high quality charter schools exploded in availability and popularity. Thanks in part to a commitment from City Hall and the dogged determination of leaders likeEva Moskowitz, the founder of Success Academy schools, parents whose students who were once relegated to attend failing schools had an ever-growing selection of quality options like Success, Kipp and UnCommon Schools for their children – schools whose best practices could be replicated across the city.
But that could all come to an end under de Blasio, who is making good on a campaign promise to put charters under his thumb. He is seeking to end charters’ ability to co-locate in underutilized public school buildings, and he wants to charge rent to the schools that are already inside the district schools. De Blasio’s new schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, said of the mayor’s plan, “I think right now we need space for our own kids.” Never mind that charter schools are public schools; that kids attending chartersare our own kids.
What’s happening in New York is certainly political, but it’s not partisan. No one can question de Blasio’s progressive credentials – he’s certainly the only big city mayor who was once a pro-Sandinista activist – but liberal politics and opposition to quality school choice don’t go hand in hand. His nemesis Moskowitz, the Success Academy founder, is a former Democrat New York City councilmember.
Instead, de Blasio’s march against quality public charters is more about payback to the United Federation of Teachers, the union that put its political muscle behind de Blasio in his campaign. Bending over backwards for the union and its zealous defense of mediocrity might make political sense in the near term in de Blasio’s clouded calculus. But if the de Blasio administration comes to be known for snuffing out opportunity for kids to obtain a quality education in a city once known for the growth of outstanding schools, then de Blasio will be a failed one-term mayor, and the Bloomberg to de Blasio changeover will be known as a case of first to worst.
Back in Phoenix, the New Schools push has attracted the backing of the Walton Family Foundation to support teachers who are working to replicate the best practices of high performing schools from across the nation. The New Schools leaders are rolling up their sleeves to prove that the quality of a school should have nothing to do with the neighborhood it’s in, a marked departure from New York, where the mayor there seems perfectly content for struggling neighborhoods to be home to struggling schools. To families forced to send their kids to bad schools, de Blasio says, “tough luck.”
In Phoenix, the push is for new schools. In New York, it’s old ways. In both cities, lives will be changed; here for the better, there for the worse.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.