Shortly before his election, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio floated a kind of anti-charter trial balloon, letting voters know that if elected he would end the practice of letting charters use public school buildings rent-free. It was a threat, but not one that was too extreme, given that many cities didn’t have NYC’s rent-free charter policy.Now that De Blasio is safely elected, he is throwing down the gauntlet against charters, planning to cut more than $200 million in the Education Department’s new capital plan. Initially, the city sold the change as an attempt to free up more money for pre-K programs, but now the Mayor is dropping even that justification: He says he simply doesn’t want to spend money on charter schools under any circumstances. The New York Daily News reports:
“I want the facts to be clear here. The action taken was to no longer devote [the money] to charter school expansion. Period,” de Blasio said Sunday. “And that frees up the money for other priorities.” De Blasio suggested that besides pre-K, it could go towards reducing overcrowding across the school system.
The charter school issue highlights one of the major fault lines in the Democratic Party: the gap between the producers and the consumers of government services. On the consumer end, wealthy professionals and Silicon Valley types, not to mention many poor urban parents, often favor charter schools as places that have the freedom to try new, better, and cheaper ways of doing things; teacher’s unions, on the other hand, view charters as a way for politicians to staff new schools with lower-paid, non-unionized workers. Both the producers of government services and the consumers are key parts of the Democratic base, making it difficult to split the difference between the two. Many Democrats, most notably President Obama, back the charters; De Blasio’s unbridled contempt for charters makes it clear which side he is on.