A Long Island lawmaker likened the spread of charter schools to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in a bizarre rant at an NAACP-sponsored event, The Post has learned.
State Assemblyman Phil Ramos went off during his virtual testimony at the education forum on Jan. 24.
“I am in vehement opposition to charter schools. From what I’ve seen, it’s just another system created that imposes a discriminatory system on our people,” Ramos griped.
“Basically, for the second half of the 1900s, racism — in your face racism, burning crosses — kind of for the most part went undercover and modern-day racism was conducted with a calculator. A calculator that creates a formula. The sum total of that formula always ends up being a disparity in our communities.”
Ramos complained that publicly funded but privately run charter schools divert dollars from traditional public schools.
“Charter schools have kind of taken on the characteristics of coronavirus. We create a vaccine and they morph into something else,” said Ramos, a Democrat who represents the Suffolk County communities of Central Islip, Brentwood and Bay Shore.
The deadly virus has taken the lives of nearly 68,000 people in New York State and more than 900,000 nationwide, recent federal data shows.
Ramos, a retired Suffolk County cop, opposes the South Shore Charter School that SUNY approved to open on his Central Islip turf.
“And every time we challenge charter schools, they find another sophisticated way to just kind of cloud up the issue,” Ramos said.
Ramos claimed that charter schools are “monetizing the education of our children into a private business” and “prey on our communities.” State law bars charter schools — whose students are selected via lottery — from operating as for-profit entities.
“When people pushed back on that, they morphed again — just like the coronavirus. And they morphed and said, ‘We except all students,’” he said.
Then, he dredged up the common criticism that charters push out low-performing students to boost their school scores on the state’s standardized math and English exams.
“In a back-door way, they cream the students out,” he railed. “When they [students] don’t perform well, they find every excuse to try to expel them and put them back into public schools who are forced to accept them. Public schools would be better also if they only kept the high-scoring students.”
But numerous reports of state test data in New York show that students in charter schools — predominately black and Hispanic — typically outperform their peers in nearby traditional public schools and are among the top performers in New York City and the state when including even the wealthiest suburban school districts.
Ramos’ criticism parrots of those of the teachers’ union. The New York State United Teachers political action committee has donated $23,350 to his campaigns, according to reports filed with the state Board of Elections.
The Democratic legislator also called the approval process for charter schools a “kangaroo court” and “rubber stamp” — while slamming supporters as “poverty pimps” who exploit residents “yearning” for better conditions.
“We should not allow these charter schools to proliferate in our communities and we need to push back,” Ramos said.
Ramos urged Gov. Hochul and the state Legislature “to stop this slippery slope allowing more charter schools to pour into our community and monetize the education of our children.”
The state group that represents the charter school sector demanded an apology from Ramos for his anti-charter school tirade.
“I was extremely shocked, disappointed,” said Yomika Bennett, executive director of the New York State Charter School Association. “We all should be doing everything we can to support quality education for all students and bring communities together. I hope he’s thought better of his comments today and will apologize. The public and NAACP, especially, deserve one.”
Bennett added, “There is no reason to stop charter schools if you have the best interests of the students and families in mind. If you are interested in offering students and families high-quality education options, you support charter schools, period.”
Bennett also noted that Dermoth Mattison, who is black, will lead the South Shore charter school opening in Ramos’ district.
“Matison is an experienced school leader. He’s a black man starting a school that will likely serve predominantly students of color. He should be welcomed into the community,” Bennett said.
On Sunday, however, Ramos doubled down and defended his comparison of the charter school sector to COVID-19.
Charter schools are popular with parents, polls show.
But Democrats who control both houses of the state Legislature — the Senate and Assembly — are closely aligned with the anti-charter teachers’ union and have blocked requests to increase the cap on charter openings in New York City. The legal limit of 290 was reached two years ago.
Hochul, who was just endorsed by the New York State United Teachers, has been criticized for not pushing lawmakers to lift the cap.
Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced to strip the State University of New York’s Charter School Institute of its authority to approve new charters. Under the bill pushed by Sen. John Liu (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto (D-Bronx), only the state Education Department’s Board of Regents, more tied to the anti-charter educational establishment and unions — could green light charter schools.
The governors appoints trustees to SUNY’s government board, which has been more pro-charter since former three-term Gov. George Pataki approved the law legalizing charterers in New York. The Democratic-run Legislature, which is more hostile to charters, appoints members to the Board of Regents.
Two Long Island charter schools recently approved by SUNY were opposed by the Board of Regents, including the one in Ramos’ district.