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Cantor picks schoolyard fight with de Blasio

The Virginia Republican accused the new NYC mayor of "standing in the schoolhouse door" in opposing charter schools.
Eric Cantor Gives Speech On Value Of School Choice
House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) speaks on his support of charter schools and tax-funded voucher programs that help pay for private and parochial schools on Jan. 8, 2014 in Washington, DC.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took a shot at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday, vowing to use his legislative platform to push back against de Blasio and any efforts to slow the expansion of charter schools.

“Right now, school choice is under attack,” Cantor said during a speech on school choice at the Brookings Institute. “It is up to us in this room and our allies across the nation to work for and fight for the families and students who will suffer the consequences if school choice is taken away.”

Cantor, a Republican from Virginia and ardent supporter of charter schools and school vouchers, has recently visited charter schools in Philadelphia and New Orleans, and said the schools offered inner-city youth a chance at a productive life they might not have in traditional neighborhood public schools.

Cantor said students in big cities could benefit most from so-called school choice offered by charter and private schools, and blasted de Blasio for his education agenda, which includes proposals to place a moratorium on charter schools and begin charging rent for those sharing space with traditional public schools.

“This move could devastate the growth of education opportunity in such a competitive real estate market like New York City,” Cantor said in his prepared remarks. “Just think, how many families will have their choices taken away if Mayor de Blasio pursues these policies? Mayor de Blasio should abandon this plan and allow New York's charter schools to continue to flourish.”

“We are going to remain vigilant at attempts to thwart the growth in public school choice and in education choice,” Cantor said, adding that De Blasio’s policies “are going to hurt kids and their families and they ought not to go into effect.”

Cantor said he would work to "ensure no one from the government stands in the schoolhouse door between any child and a good education."

Wednesday's event at the Brooking's Institute was held to promote the release of its 2013 Education Choice and Competition Index, which ranks America's largest school districts with "A" thru "F" grades for how well each district "supports school choice, provides a framework for efforts to improve choice and competition, and recognize leaders among school districts in the design and implementation of choice and competition systems." 

On this year's index, New York City, which boasts the country's largest public school population--about 1.1 million students--was given an "A-."

The city is among a number of major American urban centers in recent years that have undertaken mass public school closings while allowing charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, to expand.

During former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 12-year tenure, the number of charter schools in New York City  exploded from 17 when he took office in 2002 to 183 when he left office last month. Over the past decade, charter schools had been favored institutions of Bloomberg’s and other big-money Wall Street donors. During the campaign, de Blasio said he would stop offering free rent to charter schools, and Bloomberg’s office scrambled to place about two dozen schools in public school buildings before his term ended.

“I won’t favor charters,” de Blasio told The New York Times in October. “Our central focus is traditional public schools.”

On Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Cantor’s remarks, de Blasio fired back.

“The Republican agenda in Washington doesn’t even scratch the surface of the inequities facing more than a million children in our public schools,” de Blasio toldThe Hill in a statement. “It’s a dangerous philosophy that turns its back on public education—and it has failed many times before. What public school parents want—and I know because I’m one of them—are real investments that lift up all our kids. That will take big, bold, progressive ideas. And that’s exactly what the people of New York City just voted for.”