Karim Camara Says More Charter Support Unlikely in Budget Deal

Karim Camara at the pro-charter rally as Andrew Cuomo speaks at the podium.

Karim Camara at the pro-charter rally as Andrew Cuomo speaks at the podium. (Photo: Families for Excellent Schools/Twitter)

Assemblyman Karim Camara, who raised eyebrows earlier this month when he appeared with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos at a charter school rally in Albany, isn’t quite on the pro-charter bandwagon any more.

In an interview with the Observer, Mr. Camara, who serves as leader of the state legislature’s minority caucus, said his appearance at the rally should not be seen as an embrace of charter schools beyond what he’s expressed in the past–and that charter schools should not be expanded at the expense of traditional public schools.

“I’ve been very consistent from the very beginning in that I believe that charter schools can be a part of an overall comprehensive system of education, particularly when it comes to communities of color and poor communities,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do in our public education system, but I’ve also been very clear that since the overwhelming number of our students will be in [traditional] public schools, that’s our ultimate priority: to make sure that public schools have adequate funding, to make sure that we’re not doing anything at the expense of public schools. So that’s something I’m very clear about.”

Mr. Camara surprised some insiders when he took center stage at the rally, which was attended by thousands of charter school operators, parents and students, pushing for greater support. The event was framed by some as an affront to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was holding his own rally at the same time urging state lawmakers to allow the city to raise taxes on its highest income-earners to fund universal pre-K and after-school programs.

“Beautiful students I’m so excited to be here with you today for such an important issue, an important cause. There can be no greater mandate for us as elected officials to make sure that we’re creating an educational system so that you get the skills that you need to move on in your life and have the career that you deserve,” Mr. Camara told the pro-charter crowd.

“That’s what we’re here for today. We’re here for the children!” he exclaimed to loud cheers, introducing Mr. Cuomo to the group. “It’s my pleasure and honor today to give the introduction for a very special guest who’s here with us … It’s my pleasure to introduce a true friend of education, a true friend of this charter movement, Andrew Cuomo.”

The charter event was bolstered by Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, who had received word days before that Mr. de Blasio was planning to pull the plug on three of her schools, which Mr. Cuomo vowed to “save.” He has since declared protecting charter schools an essential part of the ongoing budget negotiations, and Capital New York reported yesterday that “charters will likely emerge from this legislative session with stronger protections than they have enjoyed for years, with expanded grades and more money for building.”

Mr. Camara insisted that he hadn’t received any push back from his appearance, but suggested that his presence had been misconstrued

“It’s natural. That’s part of the risk that we take that people attribute comments or appearing at an event with somebody as your thoughts,” he added when asked about the rally. “I’ve been very clear with the unions, with other individuals, with constituents in what my stance is on the issue.”

As for Mr. Cuomo’s promise of added funding, Mr. Camara said he’s doubtful extra cash for the controversial privately-run public schools will make it into the state budget deal being hammered out right now.

“I don’t see how in the next few days—if I was a betting man, so to speak– I don’t believe there’s anything over the next few days that the Assembly would agree to out of the one house done by the senate,” Mr. Camara said. “I don’t expect that to be included in the budget.”

Additional reporting by Colin Campbell.