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Mayor Bill de Blasio shifts tone on charter schools, plugs universal pre-K

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking about his vision for education reform at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking about his vision for education reform at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights.
Office of the Mayor

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio softened his hard stance on charter schools and reaffirmed his commitment to quality education for all children in a speech at Riverside Church in Morningside Heights on Sunday.

"We cannot continue a system predicated on the false choice between giving opportunity to a lucky few children, or to none at all," de Blasio said in a statement. "We are turning a page of the era of zero sum games."

De Blasio said that he wants to create an atmosphere where charter schools can help strengthen traditional public schools.

"Six percent of our children in the charters — they are our children," de Blasio said during his speech. "We need them to succeed. Ninety-four percent of our children are in traditional public schools — they are our children. We need them to succeed."

The mayor also stated that the city is set to secure funding for universal pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. This week, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo — who opposes de Blasio's proposed tax hike — and the state Legislature will reach an agreement on funding for universal pre-K.

"I know Governor Cuomo wants us to have pre-K for all of our children. And I honor him for that," de Blasio said. "And this is one of those sea change moments. Maybe despite ourselves, we’re finding our way to a common understanding that it’s time to actually invest in our children."

Forty-nine percent of New Yorkers disapprove of the way in which de Blasio is handling public schools, compared to 38 percent who approve, according to a poll released by Quinnipiac University last Wednesday.

Although 86 percent of New Yorkers want universal pre-K, 54 percent of them prefer Cuomo's plan to pay for it using state revenues compared to 35 percent who prefer de Blasio's plan to increase taxes on wealthy New Yorkers.

And there is backlash against de Blasio's treatment of charter schools. Forty percent of New Yorkers want de Blasio to increase the number of charter schools, 14 percent want him to decrease the number and 39 percent want the number to stay the same.

Last month, the de Blasio administration ruled that the Success Academy Harlem Central Middle School cannot share space in a district school building due to overcrowding, Newsday reported. The charter school has responded to the ruling with lawsuits and a "Save the 194" campaign — the number of students that the closure affects.