Leaders of a national education reform movement, including Joel I. Klein and Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellors in New York and Washington, have formed a statewide political group in New York with an eye toward being a counterweight to the powerful teachers’ union in the 2013 mayoral election.
The group, called StudentsFirstNY, is an arm of a national advocacy organization that Ms. Rhee founded in 2010. Like the national group, the state branch will promote the expansion of charter schools and the firing of ineffective schoolteachers, while opposing tenure.
Led by Micah Lasher, who is leaving his job next week as the director of state legislative affairs for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, the campaign is beginning while advocates of reform have an ally in the mayor. But their eyes are focused on 2014, when a new mayor — most likely one who is more sympathetic to the teachers’ union than Mr. Bloomberg has been — enters office.
Members of the group worry that without a significant marshaling of forces, their achievements could be dismantled. Their aim is to raise $10 million annually for five years, hoping to make an imprint throughout the next mayor’s first term.
“This organization is really going to represent a redoubling of efforts, new energy and serious resources, invested in making our schools great in a climate that may not be as favorable post-Jan. 1, 2014,” Mr. Lasher said. He has been the mayor’s point person in Albany, and was involved in negotiating the recent deal creating a new teacher evaluation system.
On the board are some of the most well-known and polarizing figures in public education, including Ms. Rhee; Mr. Klein, now a News Corporation executive; and Eva S. Moskowitz, the former councilwoman who now runs a chain of charter schools. Also on the board are former Mayor Edward I. Koch; Geoffrey Canada, the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone organization, a network of charter schools; and a number of venture capitalists and hedge fund managers, who have served as the movement’s financial backers.
Aside from promoting changes throughout the state, members of the group hope to neutralize the might of the teachers’ unions, whose money, endorsements and get-out-the-vote efforts have swung many close elections.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the city teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers, said the same policies that StudentsFirst sought to preserve in the city and extend throughout the state were no longer palatable to parents or voters.
“If these 1-percenters want to mount an AstroTurf campaign with their deep pockets, they’ve done this before,” he said. “But let’s be clear: the public school parents have not bought into the Bloomberg education reform movement.”
The new group is not supporting a particular candidate, nor will it necessarily endorse one, Mr. Lasher said. But he indicated that between now and the Democratic primary, the group would pressure mayoral candidates to declare their positions on education; those who have so far expressed interest in running have been silent on some elements of the reform agenda. Most of the politicians considering a run, including Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker; Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate; and Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, have been more cordial with Mr. Mulgrew than Mayor Bloomberg has.
Establishing where the next mayor stands on education is crucial for advocates, because a number of unresolved issues will fall to Mr. Bloomberg’s successor. The city’s contract with the teachers’ union, which expired in 2009, remains to be negotiated, raising questions about whether the next mayor will support the granting of individual performance bonuses for teachers — the union prefers schoolwide bonuses — or will call for teachers to be laid off if their positions are cut and they cannot find new ones.
Under Mr. Bloomberg, charter schools have been given free space in underused public school buildings, a policy that has led to disagreements across the city as parents argue with other parents over classrooms and closets.
In 2015, mayoral control of schools will come up for renewal in Albany, reviving questions about checks and balances and parents’ ability to influence school policy.
Throughout the coming negotiations, Ms. Rhee expected that her organization would push for change, however uncomfortable it might be for the city’s mayor.
Ms. Rhee and Mr. Klein have a confrontational history with teachers’ unions. But some charter school leaders and other advocates have spoken of the need to lower the temperature of the debate and have turned their focus inward on improving their own schools.
“Folks are genuinely looking for opportunities to make peace and not war,” Mr. Canada said. “And I think that’s terrific. But someone has to make war.”