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Campbell Brown speech at business dinner attracting union protesters

The teachers union and its allies will protest outside the annual Business Council of New York State's meeting in Lake George on Wednesday.  The union is upset over a speech to be given by former CNN anchor and now charter school advocate Campbell Brown.

Campbell Brown is the featured speaker at the yearly event, at the posh Sagamore Resort on Lake George. It often features top politicians, but seldom attracts demonstrations.

This year, it will be different. The state teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, and its affiliated group AQE ,or Alliance for Quality Education, plans to bring hundreds of teachers, parents and others to voice their disagreement with Brown’s ideas. Billy Easton, with AQE, calls Brown a front person for billionaire Wall Street executives, who he says fund the charter school movement at the expense of public school .

“We’re exposing her from land, air and sea,” said Easton, who says in addition to traditional picketing, protesters will also be on boats in the waters surrounding the hotel, and has hired a small plane to fly overhead with a banner.

Brown has opposed many teachers union policies and practices. She tried to influence contract talks, she’s worked to require greater background checks for teachers and has voiced support for a lawsuit in California to  weaken teacher tenure. She is on the board of New York City-based charter school network Success Academy. One of her websites, the Partnership Educational Justice, says its goal is to help students, and their families “advocate for the great public schools they deserve,” with a particular focus on low income students.

The teacher’s union is trying to discourage state lawmakers from attending the speech, as well, says Easton, who says he’s talked with state legislators, including Republican assemblymembers,  who say they are skipping the event.

A spokesman for the Business Council says they have not heard of any state lawmakers cancelling their attendance at Brown’s speech.  

Business Council President Heather Briccetti, in a statement says: “It is ironic and troubling that just days into the school year the teacher’s union is asking its members to spend their energy trying to repress opposing views rather than focus on fixing the crisis in our schools." Briccetti calls results from public charter school “promising."

Easton says his group is not disputing Brown’s right to speak her views, but wants to make sure that the other side is heard, too. But he says he still thinks it was a mistake for the Business Council to invite her.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.