Friday, February 12, 2010

Senator Ambiguous: You Can't Straddle on Quality Education

Come home, Senator;
charter kids need you!

Senator Antoine Thompson of Buffalo has not had a good week.

No, he was not the senator who got expelled; that was Sen. Hiram Monserrate, who obviously had a much worse week. But Sen. Thompson could not get his story straight about how he voted on the Monserrate expulsion - at one point saying he "did not vote yes." Actually, he was not among the eight senators voting in the negative, which means as a matter of public record, he voted "yes" to expulsion. It took a lengthy piece in the Buffalo News by Capitol reporter, Tom Precious, to sort this out (here). Sen. Thompson explained the discrepancy by saying he was "tired and sick." Fair enough.

I do not think this expulsion vote was necessarily an easy one, nor should be taken lightly. And, as The Chalkboard noted previously (here), most of the Senate majority leadership voted against expulsion, which partly explains Sen. Thompson's vexation since he is part of that leadership.
Straddling on Charter Schools
Sen. Thompson's ambiguity on the expulsion vote unfortunately is not an isolated incident. While generally a supporter of charter schools, last month when the charter school issue got hot and heavy, Sen. Thompson ended up backing a sham Race to the Top bill that would have stopped charter schools for good - which is why the teacher unions and School Boards Association backed it. Now, legislation gets complicated. Sen. Thompson may have gotten bad advice internally on the bill's details and the leadership demanded support. So, excuses abound for favoring this bill.
But, the next day, he introduced his own bill (S.6473, here) that would require the approval of the Buffalo Board of Education for any new charter school and for any renewal of an existing charter school within the district. No one should confuse the Buffalo School Board of favoring charters - it doesn't. In fact, it could barely muster the ability to sign onto the state's Race to the Top application (and the money connected to it for the district) because of its antipathy toward charters (here). Moreover, the board also sought a "moratorium" from the state Regents on approving any new charters for Buffalo (it was denied).
So, the outcome of Sen. Thompson's bill is clear: no more charter schools in Buffalo; and possibly shut down existing ones by empowering the district Board. Ironically, the senator represents one of the worse-performing school districts in the state, with several schools under registration review (SURR), which are chronically low-performing schools within his own Senate district. Three out of four minority students in Buffalo also fail the state's middle school exams and are not even ready for high school (here), leading many tragically to drop out.
According to Sen. Thompson, his objective is not to stop charter schools, as he explained to dozens of Buffalo charter school operators and parents who traveled last week to Albany for Charter School Advocacy Day. When they asked about his anti-charter bill, the senator's ambiguity surfaced as he tried to assure that the district isn't anti-charter; that his bill would merely allow the board to weigh in on a charter school proposal, blah blah blah.
Stand with Children, Not the System
With the passing of time, and new-found influence in the Senate majority, Sen. Thompson has drifted from his reform and community roots. Children in poor communities stuck in bad schools need the choice that charters provide for them. The senator himself has written in support of new charter schools. But children need more - they need him to protect this reform movement that's thriving in Buffalo and across New York against those responsible for bad district schools who are trying to stop charters.
The teacher union pressure on him, and every other politician, is about protecting the adults in the school system. That's fine, as long as someone also is protecting the interests of students. Sen. Thompson has spoken out for the needs of children, but for that to mean something, he should oppose legislation that runs contrary to that sentiment, beginning with his own bill to empower the Buffalo Board to put an end to charter schools.

Come home, Senator Thompson, and stand for the best education possible for children, including charter schools.

Peter Murphy
for The Chalkboard
(see me Twitter @ PeterMurphy26)

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