THE BLOG

Eva Moskowitz's Shameful Misuse of Civil Rights

Mar 13, 2014 | Updated May 13, 2014

Just when you think you've seen everything, something comes along that knocks you off your feet.

Just a week after charter school queen Eva Moskowitz invaded the capital -- flanked by thousands of parents, children and teachers she practically required to attend from her 22 schools that she closed for the political rally -- she announced a civil rights suit against the city for denying three of her eight requested charter school co-locations.

Civil rights?

As Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson pointed out: this is a "[shameful] use of civil rights language to try to justify an attack on the civil rights of all children. This is fundamentally uncivil and against every tenet of the Civil Rights Movement that we can think of."

I couldn't agree more.

Moskowitz is trying to paint herself as a defender of black and Latino children, but really her war on Mayor Bill de Blasio is not about children or civil rights. It's about Moskowitz wanting more power, more profit for her 22 schools and demanding to get everything she wants, just like she did in the Bloomberg administration. As we think about civil rights, we think about the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit that demanded the state ensure every child get equitable funding for a decent education.

As a child that was born and raised in the Bronx, I have seen first-hand the inequity of public education for a community of color. We need to make sure every child gets a quality education, not just a few.

Real civil rights issues were about the fundamental notion that separate is unequal -- separate bathrooms for blacks, riding the back of the bus, being denied the right to vote, the right to hold good jobs and take part in everyday life as equals. Moskowitz is attempting to perpetuate a separate but unequal system that disadvantages children in traditional public schools and those with special education needs. That is the civil rights issue.

She is trying to turn a reasonable decision about space into a reason to declare war on the Mayor and the Department of Education. The truth is five of her charters were approved, as were most charter applications -- several traditional schools were denied co-locations as well. Education officials say the ones that were rejected would have taken space from needy students in existing schools.

Moskowitz also is up in arms because de Blasio has said he wants to charge well-heeled charter schools rent for using public space. Imagine that! Charters founded and funded by 1 percenters don't want to pay rent or the cost of building services that the traditional school system pays, but are spending millions on slick TV ads.

Moskowitz, who was treated as a queen in the Bloomberg administration and under his first chancellor, Joel Klein, doesn't like being treated just like anyone else. And instead of doing her charter lobbying on another day, she decided to invade Albany and turn it all into a gigantic sideshow. Eighteen other charter school operators wanted nothing to do with her circus-like rally and have been distancing themselves from her.

Unfortunately she was successful -- at least in terms of grabbing the headlines. She used the media's interest in the differences between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo on Pre-K to portray additional conflict and overshadow the critical issue of early childhood education.

All those students Moskowitz trotted up to Albany missed a day of classes because she needed pawns in her vindictive chess match with the city. Moskowitz, who pays herself $475,244 a year, picked that day to upstage Mayor Bill de Blasio, who brought 1,500 people to Albany to lobby for his Pre-K plan.

Saving charter schools is not about civil rights. It's about well-heeled hedge funders like the pro-charter group called Families for Excellent Schools (FES) and several charter political action committees who have an ideological bone to pick with the Mayor. WNYC has reported that FES was founded in 2011 by a bunch of big players on Wall Street. One big donor was Walmart's Walton Family, which gave FES more than $700,000 in the past two years.

All this fighting is yet another example of children being used as pawns, or, in this case, as a political football. That is unconscionable. All children need a quality education, not just the 5 percent who attend charter schools. Our children also need full-day pre-K, which has been shown to help them academically and socially in later grades.

Moskowitz should know better than using kids as human shields in her political fights with the mayor. Instead of trying to upstage de Blasio's pre-K effort and ramp up her war with the mayor, Moskowitz should recognize that we all care about our children and find ways to work with the city to give every kid the quality education they deserve.