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Watch Katie Couric’s complete, exclusive interview with Mike Bloomberg here.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg strongly defended the value of charter schools in public education, putting him at odds with his successor Bill de Blasio who has pledged to slow the growth of the charter movement in the city.
Speaking to Yahoo News Global Anchor Katie Couric in his first major interview since leaving office in December, Bloomberg did not criticize de Blasio by name. But he took aim at several positions taken by the new mayor, including on charter schools—which he insisted should be considered a “role model” for the struggling education system, not a detriment.
“Charter schools are public schools. That’s what everybody forgets,” Bloomberg said. “Charter schools have delivered superior educational results to a group of people who desperately need them and have been left out for far too long by the traditional methods.”
De Blasio came under fire last month after he announced he would block three schools from using space in traditional public school buildings under leases that had been approved by the Bloomberg administration. He also reallocated $210 million in city funds set aside by Bloomberg to benefit charter schools and other non-profit groups for other city education uses. The moves have been widely criticized by charter school leaders, parents and their supporters—including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who vowed to “save charter schools” at a rally in Albany last week.
Bloomberg also weighed in on another education controversy: The push to enact “Common Core” learning standards in math and English aimed at improving college and career readiness. Lawmakers in several states, including New York, have moved to delay or dump the standards, arguing there hasn’t been enough study into their implementation.
But Bloomberg criticized those efforts as a “disgrace” and an attempt to “dumb down that curriculum,” arguing that education standards should be strengthened in order to prepare U.S. students to work and compete in an increasingly global marketplace.
“To condemn our kids, your kids, my kids, everybody else's kids to a life where they can't compete is just, it's sick. That's the nicest thing you can say,” Bloomberg said.
The former mayor defended his administration against critics, including de Blasio, who have said his policies created a major income gap between the rich and poor in New York City and resulted in a record number of homeless. He argued better education and more jobs is the way to help the poor. But one thing he asserted would not work is President Barack Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour—an effort he described as “one of the most misguided things we can do.”
“You're gonna hurt the poor. Because when an employer has to pay more, not doing business or technology as a replacement for people is an attractive thing,” Bloomberg told Couric.
Instead, Bloomberg argued for an increase in the earned income tax credit—which Obama has also proposed.
“Nobody's gonna get laid off if you increase the earned income tax credit. You'd get the same amount of money to the people you want,” he said.
While the former mayor was cagey about his own political future—he insisted he does not think about running for president—Bloomberg gave no signs of backing down from many of his pet political issues. He has just taken on a role as U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change. "I don't know what the world is going to look like in 2050," Bloomberg said. "What I do know is right now you go to cities and in some cases you can see the air you're breathing."
He also pledged to continue his work combatting public health problems like smoking and obesity and pushing to enact stricter gun laws.
He predicted that his efforts to limit the sale of sugary drinks to just 16 ounces per serving—a campaign that is still caught up in litigation in New York—would soon be embraced nationally.
“We’ll win that battle,” Bloomberg insisted.
And he said he was still hopeful that Congress would approve new gun regulations, including background checks on the sales of firearms at gun shows. “One hundred percent convinced,” Bloomberg said, adding that he plans to be very active in backing candidates who support new gun laws during the upcoming midterm elections.
Asked if he could outspend the National Rifle Association and other opponents of gun control measures, Bloomberg casually replied, “Oh sure.” But then added, “I’m not the only funder of this.”
While he has been critical of Congress for being unduly influenced by political contributions from the tobacco industry and other special interests, Bloomberg, whose net worth is an estimated $33 billion, according to Forbes magazine, dodged a question about whether he should be considered a “special interest group.” He says it’s his right under the Constitution to support the candidates and issues he chooses.
“We have the Second Amendment which gives you the right to bear arms. You also have the First Amendment which gives you the right to say what you wanna say,” Bloomberg said. “I think shame on me if I didn't use the money I was lucky enough to make to make the world a better place.”