Op-Ed: Mayor de Blasio’s Missed Opportunity

Maria Lopez

This month, parents all across New York City are anxiously waiting to find out if they have won the lottery.

Not Powerball, but a lottery that determines the quality of education their child will receive. In the City today, more than 52,000 kids are on public charter school waitlists. I was one of those parents, waiting along with my child, hoping against hope that my son would get a seat.  Every year, for three years in a row, I applied. Each year, as the lottery came around, I was full of hope that my son Leonardo would be lucky enough to get into a high-performing public charter school.

Maria Lopez

In his district school, he was struggling and not getting the attention he needed. It was hard to reach his teacher to find out how he was doing in class. I wanted to help him succeed in school — I knew he could and it was frustrating.

Finally, on the fourth try, we won the lottery. Leonardo got into Success Academy Williamsburg, where he quickly began to thrive.

He’s now in seventh grade at Success Academy Myrtle Middle School. I talk to his teacher at least once a week, and the principal is outside each morning greeting the students as they arrive and saying goodbye at the end of the day. After I drop him off, I can go to my own classroom at the school where I teach and I have peace of mind, knowing my son is surrounded by educators who care deeply about him and are doing everything in their power to help him reach his potential.

I’ve watched him grow in so many ways: into one of the most advanced readers in his class, into an eager and talented math student, into a proud scholar with a high GPA. He even ran for student council president — something I couldn’t imagine without Success helping boost his confidence.

I know the parents of the 52,000 students on the City’s charter waitlist want the same for their children. But Mayor de Blasio has put a stop to opportunity for children like my son. He wants to open up more seats to black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools, yet he denies their younger brothers and sisters access to high-quality schools that could change their lives. The mayor’s opposition to charter schools means far fewer new schools, far fewer seats for families like mine. The mayor says he wants to make the district schools better, and no one is against that, but why, at the same time, can’t he open more charters and give parents more options for their children?

For example, 37 the city’s 50 highest-performing schools are public charters. In fact, charter school students of color are achieving at higher levels than white students statewide. These schools should be celebrated and expanded, not blocked.

This is especially frustrating because the City has the space, in fact, there are more empty seats each year. There are more than 100,000 empty seats in more than 200 school buildings. Those empty seats represent missed opportunity for New York City’s children of color — and a missed opportunity for Mayor de Blasio to help parents like me achieve the dreams they have for their children.

If the mayor continues to deny space to charter schools, what will those parents do? Where would Leo be if he hadn’t gotten a spot in a public charter school? More kids deserve what my son has gotten — the opportunity to learn and thrive at a school he loves.

We need space to expand public charter schools that have a proven track record of student success. What will it take for lawmakers to realize that families like mine depend on public charter schools and give them the space they need to give all children in New York City access to an excellent education?

Maria Lopez is a pre-K teacher and public charter school parent. She lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with her children.

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