Choice Marches On: Charters for the Middle Class?*

From the beginning, charter schools have been sold as a vehicle of choice for the poor – and they have done a remarkable job, for the most part, providing that outlet.  Now, according to this morning’s New York Times, public school choice may be coming to a more affluent neighborhood near you.

Or so Eva Moskowitz, former New York City Council member, scourge of Gotham’s teacher unions, and founder of Success Charter Network, proposes. She wants to put a charter on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, not known for its poverty, saying, “Middle-class families need options too.”

But Moskowitz has found herself, according to the Times report, running into some stiff resistance since announcing her new charter last fall*:

Ms. Moskowitz is known for an aggressive style, and perhaps no neighborhood spoils for a fight more than the Upper West Side….  Opposition to the charter school, named Upper West Success Academy, has been as structured and relentless as the school’s own marketing campaign, and it has already chased the school out of two proposed locations, on 105th and 109th Streets. The local community education council, which represents District 3 public school parents, has mobilized council members and state senators in fighting the charter school, which it contends will siphon middle- and upper-middle-class families from schools that desperately need them for stability.

Sound familiar?

While there may be some debate about the definitions of the demographic here, the Times says there is a little nationwide trend:

Charter schools have been expanding into middle-class areas around the country as states have eased restrictions on the schools and as the economy has put private schooling increasingly out of reach. In Baltimore and Cleveland, for instance, officials are using charter schools to lure white families into the city, or to keep them from leaving.

There is no doubt that this is not your father’s charter school.  And no doubt Moskowitz is pushing the choice envelope.  But is there a reason choice should not be everyone’s right? Should public schools not compete with one another?

–Peter Meyer

*In an October report I headlined my blog post on this same subject, “Charters for the Wealthy” – hey, the recession continues.

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