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How Success Academy Pulled the Wool Over Everyone’s Eyes to Get What They Wanted

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If you recall, Eva Moskowitz was locked in a fierce battle with Mayor de Blasio and the City of New York over a pre-kindergarten program. The city said that the Success Academy charter chain could not have $700,000 in funding unless it signed the city contract, giving the city the right to oversee the program. Eva refused to sign the contract. She said that the city had no power over her charter schools, and that she should get the money without signing the contract. She sued the city, and the city won in court. Thirteen other charter schools signed the city’s contract without complaint.

But all was not lost. Eva still had a powerful friend in Albany: Governor Cuomo. It turns out that in the closing moments of the legislative session, Eva got what she wanted.

The New York Times reported today:

What the Success Academy charter school network could not get through the courts or from the New York State Education Department, it may get from the governor: the ability to run prekindergarten programs without oversight from New York City.

In the final hours of the legislative session this summer, as Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Assembly were pushing to get mayoral control of the city’s schools extended, the Republican-controlled Senate demanded some concessions for charter schools. It introduced a vague provision that appeared to grant the charter schools committee of the State University of New York’s board of trustees new powers to regulate the charter schools it oversees. Charter school supporters claimed that the provision would allow SUNY to waive requirements that limit the number of uncertified teachers that charter schools can employ.

But it turns out that the Senate Republicans, who have received substantial support from wealthy charter school supporters, had other goals in mind, as well.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo dated June 20, and not previously reported, the Senate majority leader, John J. Flanagan, wrote that the intent of the provision “was to provide SUNY with statutory authority to exempt charter schools from rules and regulations that were hampering innovative teaching and learning.”

He urged Mr. Cuomo to direct the SUNY Charter Schools Institute — the administrative entity that supports the work of the charter schools committee — to act quickly to take advantage of the provision. (Mr. Cuomo effectively controls the institute and the committee because he appoints a majority of the SUNY trustees.) Specifically, Mr. Flanagan said that SUNY should give teachers at its charter schools some time to get certified. He also asked that SUNY do something to help charter schools get space in public school buildings.

And Mr. Flanagan said that SUNY should do something about the problem of New York City’s universal prekindergarten program. “There are high-performing charters that have opted out of this program, because the regulatory burden imposed by the N.Y.C.D.O.E. was too high,” Mr. Flanagan wrote, referring to the city’s Education Department.

In fact, there is only one charter school leader who has opted out of the program after a major battle with the de Blasio administration: Success Academy’s founder, Eva S. Moskowitz.

Lesson: Whatever Eva wants, Eva gets.

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