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February 11, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

February 11 , 2007

Same As The Old Boss

New Governor Spitzer embraces failure by
promoting “charter” schools

**Update** Mark Mishler of the Albany PTA is circulating this petition in support of our public schools to be presented to the Governor. He needs them soon, so download it as a pdf using your download manager or print from the web page and contact him at

All during the gubernatorial campaign, Eliot Spitzer was coy and unspecific. No one could get him to comment on the subject of how former Governor George Pataki’s so-called “charter” schools are impoverishing upstate New York’s local school districts and ripping off taxpayers.

This alarmed a lot of people, including myself. Those who are informed about the subject know that transforming our neglected public schools by privatizing them into profit mills is a corrupt and idiotic plan. But we were so sick and tired of Pataki’s twelve years of applied economic ruin that we were willing to overlook this oversight by candidate Spitzer. After all, the man isn’t perfect.

Governor Eliot Pataki
Governor Eliot Pataki

It looks like Spitzer is much worse than imperfect. He is fatally flawed. But instead of that spineless wonder Pataki promoting corporate socialism from the Governor’s office, we now have an iron-willed enforcer with a national reputation for getting things done. And it looks like he is every inch a corporate socialist as his predecessor.

Spitzer finally clarified his intentions during a major speech concerning education on January 29. According to the New York Times:

While the governor’s speech was frequently punctuated by applause, Mr. Spitzer prompted an audible gasp and some boos from an audience of professional educators and Education Department staff members when he also called for an increase in the number of charter schools allowed under state law, to 250 from 100. “Oh, come on,” Mr. Spitzer teased the audience.


Not only did Spitzer betray his supporters in this definitive speech, he mocked them. Spitzer spit on them. But that’s not all. Spitzer demanded micro-management powers over public schools:

The governor said he would seek new powers for the Education Department, including the ability to require districts to dismiss superintendents “after substantial failure over multiple years” and even to remove entire school boards that “fail their communities year after year.”... He said that principals and superintendents would be graded on new “school leadership report cards” and that the state should be prepared to close many more failing schools — as many as 5 percent of all schools statewide — using its existing authority.

Wow. But okay, he is calling for something Pataki consistently failed to do, provide funding for our public schools. That’s great, right? But wait a minute, there’s a catch:

He also said that local districts would not have unfettered control over how they spend the additional aid, but would be required to choose from a menu of state-approved initiatives, such as reducing class sizes and increasing the amount of time children spend in school, either through longer days, longer years, after-school programs or other changes in scheduling.

In other words, Spitzer wants the Executive Branch of the State government to seize control of public school districts from local municipalities. His justification is that so many of our public schools are struggling and inadequate because of State imposed inequities in funding. No arguement there.

But there’s a little problem here. Spitzer said not one stinking word about imposing any standards whatsoever on “charter” schools.

For anyone who has been living in a paper bag the last twelve years, “charter” schools are corporate run private schools that are funded almost entirely by local public school taxes. “Charter” schools have three purposes:

1) To make a profit for the promoters.

2) To undermine and ultimately destroy public education, a prime tenet of neocon corporate socialist gospel.

3) To further impoverish poor and minority communities, which is where the promoters exclusively set up their operations.

This last point is the saddest and most frustrating of all. Minority members of our community have always gotten the least and the worst in all things, including educational oportunities. Watching some of my African American neighbors be led into another pit by these rich white suburbanite scam artists fills me with shame and disgust.

Currently, literally anyone can start a “charter” school. I’ve been told by a reliable source (a past or perhaps present employee of the State Education Department who shall remain nameless and impossible to track down) that during the Pataki administration various characters would waltz in and fill out applications to receive “charters,” which would be granted quickly without any background checks or proof of business and educational competency.

The turnover among “charter” teachers is terrific because they are non-union. Their salaried pay is terrible, much less than their public counterparts. They are required to work overtime without compensation, typically 60 or 70 hours a week. They are also on call 24 hours a day. No one slaves at a job like that unless they have no choice.

I recall hearing former Albany School superintendent Lonnie Palmer at a public meeting find a silver lining here. “They can’t keep any of their good teachers,” he said. “So when we’re hiring, we get to pick and choose from among their best.”

Public schools are required to accept all students in their community, even convicted felons. They have a strict State mandate to provide for everybody. Not so “charter” schools. Even though they are funded by the same taxpayer monies as public schools, they can choose who they want to “educate.” They get to operate like private enterprises.

And “charter” schools don’t have to play fair when calculating test scores. According to Albany School Board member Judy Doeschatte, “charter” schools regularly eliminate poorly performing children from their yearly performance reports! Really. Whenever you hear a “charter” school corporation like Brighter Choice claim that they are catching up or surpassing public schools, understand that they are fixing the numbers.

But despite all these unfair advantages, the “charter” schools still deliver lower test scores than public schools. Even after they cook the books. Could this, perhaps, be an indication that private profit making school corporations feeding at the public trough are inherently inferior to public schools?

If a “charter” school can’t find enough kids locally to pack their profit mills, as often happens, they can import kids from other municipalities, even from very far away. And guess what? Not only do us local taxpayers have to pay the corporations to “educate” these imported kids, we also have to subsidize their daily transportation.

“Charter” schools don’t have to report their finances. That’s because the same financial rules govern them as any private profit making enterprise. Thus the taxpayers have no idea how their money is being spent. Surely that is unconstitutional.

The standards for “charter” school buildings are minimal. They can be constructed on unstable soggy dumps full of explosive gases. They don’t have to follow anywhere near the rigorous fire and safety code guidelines that are demanded of public schools. In effect, they can defy local codes and zoning laws, and the municipalities have to agree.

Spitzer Takes The Oath On Day One.  Just Like Yesterday
Spitzer Takes The Oath On Day One. Just Like Yesterday

Thanks to Governor Spitzer’s commitment to one of the most serious mistakes of the Pataki administration, we can expect a whole lot more of these poorly constructed money-mills in Albany. This means that Albany school taxes will continue to climb into the stratosphere with nothing in return. Even if voters reject the school budgets, we are still required to provide raw cash to the “charter” school profiteers.

The only reasonable conclusion is that Spitzer, despite his reputation for fighting corruption, is firmly in the pockets of the “charter” school lobbyists. Spitzer is as corrupt as Pataki.

The imposition of regulations that take all real power away from locally elected school boards shows that the new Governor despises democracy, and he despises the taxpayers. It also shows that he believes that teachers do not deserve a living wage, because these new powers in effect destroy the bargaining power of unions.

Now, if Spitzer had not been bought and sold by the “charter” school speculators, he would level the playing field. He would require “charter” schools to educate all kids in the community, no matter their test scores or backgrounds. He would threaten to disenfranchise “charter” schools if they don’t perform. They would have to make their finances public.

But of course, oversight and sunshine would put these scam operations out of business almost instantly. The speculators behind “charter” schools would disappear magically in a puff of smoke.

Like the song says, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” Those of us who supported Spitzer when he was running for office have been fooled again.

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