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NEW YORK (AP) — Thousands of New York City charter school backers rallied Thursday to demand action to end what they described as a crisis of failing schools.
"We should not have to struggle to provide our kids with an equal and excellent education," New York state Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, a Harlem Democrat, told the sign-waving parents, teachers and children gathered in in Foley Square in lower Manhattan.
He added, "How many generations of our children do we have to fail before we stand up for them?"
Organizers estimated the crowd at 21,000. Many were from the Success Academy charter chain, whose schools opened late so students and teachers could attend the rally.
DJ entertainment was provided by Questlove, the drummer for The Roots.
The rally was organized by the advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools, which also is running TV ads that criticize "failing" schools.
Rally-goers all wore red T-shirts featuring the campaign's slogan "Don't steal possible."
The group says that 143,000 of New York City's 1.1 million public school pupils attend schools where fewer than one-tenth of students are performing at grade level according to state tests.
"This is a crisis here in our city that there are that many children stuck in failing schools," said rally MC Samantha Tweedy, the head of school at Excellence Boys Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. "It is an injustice and that's why we're here today."
A pro-charter rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge one year ago was intended to pressure then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio to allow charter schools to continue sharing space with traditional public schools.
Organizers did not list specific goals for Thursday's rally.
"Parents didn't gather in order to make specific public policy recommendations," Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz said in a telephone interview.
But Moskowitz said problems with the public schools cannot be addressed through measures like Chancellor Carmen Farina's announcement Wednesday of a new system for evaluating schools. "Same old same old is not going to cut it," she said.
Parents attending the rally spoke of their children's charter school successes.
Denesha Gaffney, mother of a first-grader Success Academy Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, said that "in the public schools a lot of the kids are failing and the charter schools could use that space."
Asked for comment, de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell referred to a speech that de Blasio gave earlier this year at Riverside Church in upper Manhattan.
"To paraphrase the mayor's speech at Riverside, we know our schools need help. We believe the answer is to fix the entire system," the spokesman said. "That includes traditional public schools, charter schools and religious schools. We need to uplift all our children, who will be the future of this city together. It doesn't matter what school they went to — they will be our future together."
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