By Anna Minsky

Primary Day is June 25th, and there’s a hotly contested state assembly race on the upper Upper West Side.  The two most competitive candidates, Micah Lasher and Eli Northrup, are both men, white, Jewish, and running as progressives. But dig beneath the rhetoric and you’ll find two very different candidates: one for the status quo with a few tweaks, and one with a record of advocating for bold changes to bring about racial justice, equity, and a caring New York that works for all of us.  

A crucial difference between Lasher and Northrup is their stance on charter schools – private schools that receive public funding but don’t have to play by the same rules as public schools regarding school discipline, serving disabled students, and fair pay for teachers. Lasher supports charter schools, while Northrup does not.

Northrup has plainly and honestly pointed out this policy difference. His campaign materials discuss plans to provide fair pay for teachers, and support universal pre-K and 3-K programs; in contrast to Lasher who led a pro-charter school group that worked to undermine public schools. When Lasher worked in the Bloomberg administration, he lobbied Albany to allow for more charter schools to be opened in New York.  Lasher’s messaging on schools emphasizes his identity as a public school parent and his role in creating two new schools on the West Side. Is this evidence that Lasher is a champion for education justice? Hardly.

In Manhattan, like in so many places, public resources and educational opportunities are racially distributed. Schools are segregated, with white students disproportionately concentrated in a few schools, many of which have significant private fundraising. Over the past two decades, charter schools have concentrated in neighborhoods with greater poverty and fewer white students, causing disinvestment in the public schools that serve children of color.  Meanwhile, in the part of Community School District 3 which overlaps with my upper west side assembly district, half of the public elementary schools have parent associations that make six-figure annual contributions to their schools’ budgets. These schools have about seven times the concentration of white students as uptown schools in the same community school district.  Both schools that Lasher boasts of helping to open are also disproportionately white relative to the borough, based on analysis of NYS enrollment data and DOE allocation data.

As Lasher helped to usher in charter school expansion, he created an ecosystem where enrollment declines were matched with a proliferation of schools, necessitating a disproportionate increase in spending on school administrators, while at the same time creating a lot of small schools that could not support different educational offerings for students with different needs.

In contrast, Northrup has spent his career as a public defender learning how racial inequities in the distribution of resources plays out in the lives of his clients.  He has worked on issues like preventing family separation, a state-inflicted trauma which harms public school children far too often. He worked with the Bronx Defenders to introduce and advocate for a bill that would prevent the state from testing pregnant and postpartum people for substance use without their consent. This is something that happens in public hospitals, but not private hospitals, a practice that simultaneously negates the rights of women and birthing people, and disproportionately harms families of color, both emotionally and financially.  

On education policy, specifically, Northrup would vote to rescind a Bloomberg-backed state law that redirects public funds to private entities by requiring the NYC Department of Education to pay rent for charter schools, and is open to changing the law to make the governance of NYC schools more democratic.

I hope that you will join me in voting for Eli Northrup on June 25th. It doesn’t matter what personal choices we make about sending our kids to school. It matters that we send someone to Albany committed to advancing equity by strengthening truly public schools, not someone who takes private money while advancing school privatization.  Whoever wins, we can all continue to push the legislature to stop the expansion of charter schools, to stop requiring the city to pay rent for charter schools, and to fund specific efforts to address racism in public schools, such as culturally responsive pedagogy and restorative practices

Here’s what it comes down to: If you support charter school expansion, you should vote for Micah Lasher. But if you don’t – if you’re passionate about investing in equitable public education – the answer is clear: Eli Northrup.

Anna Minsky is a librarian, a volunteer organizer with Jews For Racial & Economic Justice, and a public school parent and former Community Education Council member in the Harlem Community School District.