Political reality has a way of undoing populist campaign promises. But to the delight of many a Democratic activist, New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, roared into office on New Year’s Day, declaring that this time will be different.
In his inaugural address, de Blasio did not trim his vows to raise income taxes on high-earners, expand preschool, require mandatory sick leave and require developers to build affordable housing. His goal, he said, is “that New Yorkers see our city not as the exclusive domain of the 1 percent but a place where everyday people can afford to live, work and raise a family.”
Of course, inequality is a national phenomenon, not easy to dent one city at a time. But our bigger concern is that de Blasio might undermine efforts that would generate more equal opportunity in the long run.
Achieving this goal is not just a matter of taxing and spending but also of institutional reform — especially in education. His predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, an independent, challenged teachers unions and other entrenched interests to expand school choice and accountability. He closed large neighborhood schools that were performing poorly and replaced them with hundreds of smaller schools and public charter schools.
School reform in New York is still a work in progress, but de Blasio seems to side with those who want to scrap Bloomberg’s efforts rather than build on them. He has promised to limit charter schools’ access to publicly owned buildings, impose a moratorium on closing low-performing schools and end Bloomberg’s A-to-F report cards for schools.
Of all the ways to reduce inequality, none is more important than giving poor children access to good schools — including, but not limited to, pre-K. And of all the political forces that propelled de Blasio into office, none is less truly progressive than the backlash against school reform.
The Washington Post (Jan. 3)