(From The New York Sun, September 16, 2008)
By ELIZABETH GREEN
Winning more public funding for charter school construction and the power to hire uncertified teachers are among the key points of a new policy agenda announced yesterday by charter school advocates.
They said the troubled economy could challenge their efforts, but that one obstacle could be dissipating in comparison with recent years: the opposition of elected officials.
The plans were laid out by the executive director of the Center for Charter School Excellence, James Merriman, yesterday at the opening of a new charter school building in Harlem.
Several elected officials with ties to the union attended the event.
Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat of Harlem, said in his remarks that he was initially skeptical about charter schools but has come to think that the successful ones should be replicated.
The second sentence in his brief remarks addressed the city teachers union. "No one loves the United Federation of Teachers more than I do," he said, but added that if the union were "brain surgeons," schools would have made more dramatic progress by now.
"At the end of the day," he said, "it's not just tenure and pension. It's 'what have they accomplished for our children?'"
Mr. Rangel, who is under scrutiny for allegedly misreporting income in his tax filings, did not take any questions yesterday, so it was not clear whether he supports the full range of proposals Mr. Merriman laid out.
Charter school supporters at the event said they were pleased by Mr. Rangel's remarks.
"If there's any other doubt about whether the climate is right for change in the Democratic Party, Congressman Rangel settled that debate," the executive director of the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, said.
A spokesman for the UFT, Ron Davis, put out a statement responding to Mr. Rangel's remarks. The statement described the union as "a leading proponent of educational reform," citing the three charter schools it has worked to open.
The chairman of the City Council's Education Committee, Robert Jackson, also attended the event. Mr. Jackson, who wore an Obama for President pin adorned with the logo of the American Federation of Teachers, the UFT's national branch, said he supports Democracy Prep Charter School.
He also suggested he does not support all the initiatives Mr. Merriman laid out, specifically the idea that charter schools and district schools should get equal treatment in terms of building space.
"My mother said, 'Look out for your family first,'" Mr. Jackson said. "Our family is the New York City public school system."
Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Democrat of Harlem, also attended the event. He said he has so much faith in Democracy Prep that he sent his 14-year-old son there for summer school this year.