Details Are Few as Powerful Charter School Group Rallies Thousands

Jeremiah Kittredge today. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Jeremiah Kittredge today. (Photo: Ross Barkan)

Thousands of parents and students from charter schools across the city rallied in Foley Square this morning, dancing to the beats of Questlove and vowing to grow their ranks in the coming months and years.

But organizers–who said the rally drew 21,000 parents, though it wasn’t clear that many actually showed–failed to disclose how much it cost to transport the thousands of parents and students, fund the sound system and have Questlove, the famous drummer and DJ, appear for several hours. Families for Excellent Schools, the influential organization that spearheaded the rally, has also yet to disclose their donors, further irking the labor-aligned groups that oppose the growth of charter schools and say FES is a front for Wall Street and finance tycoons.

“We haven’t added up all the expenses,” Jeremiah Kittredge, the executive director of FES, told reporters after the rally. “We’re not clear what this is going to cost and what we’re focused on is the amazing turnout today, 21,000 parents are here. And look, I know that every parent here is focused here on their voice and the voice of 143,000 kids stuck in failing schools.”

Thousands of predominately minority parents and students packed the downtown Manhattan square a few blocks from City Hall, wearing bright red t-shirts that read “Don’t Steal Possible.” The word “charter school” itself was rarely invoked and advocates instead used near apocalyptic language to describe the city’s public school system, which educates the vast majority of students. The debate was framed in terms of poor parents searching for–and finding–better educational opportunities for their children in the publicly-funded, privately-run schools, and those unnamed elected officials who wanted to stifle their opportunities.

“We have to think very clearly about how you get 46 excellent schools to be a much bigger number,” Mr. Kittredge said, referring to charter schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the United Federation of Teachers have been cool to the growth of charter schools, arguing in the past that they robbed space from traditional public schools–many charter schools share space in public school buildings–and existed as a way to weaken the protections of unionized teachers. Mr. de Blasio has battled with the most vocal and visible head of the charter school movement, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, and watched this year as she successfully worked with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders to enact new laws fostering the expansion of charter schools. (One of those leaders, State Senator Jeffrey Klein, spoke at today’s rally.)

Since the struggle in Albany, Mr. de Blasio has declined to attack charter schools and Ms. Moskowitz directly, insisting instead his goal is to improve the educational system for all students. His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, aggressively promoted charter schools–Mr. Bloomberg’s old press secretary, Stu Loeser, is now a top consultant for FES.

Mr. Kittredge was vague about the reasons for having a large rally this week, though it came one day after the de Blasio administration announced they were doing away with the Bloomberg era letter-grading system that FES favors.

“It’s incredibly important that parents’ voices are heard early in the school year. It’s incredibly important that as the city weighs a number of important decisions over the next couple of weeks and months about the issue of failing schools, the parents’ voices are heard,” he said.