Cuomo, Education and the State Legislature: Conflict, Compromise or Submission?

Andrew Cuomo is a master strategist, careful, data-driven, and has decided that supporting charter schools, tougher teacher evaluation and pay for performance will garner him more votes than supporting teacher issues: and, he might be right!

The NY Post writes,

Gov. Cuomo is out to teach the teachers union a lesson, vowing Thursday to double down on education reform in his second term.

Cuomo — who noted that the state teachers union didn’t endorse him in either of his two races for governor — said overhauling the education system would be as important to his legacy for him as winning approval of gay marriage and enacting strict gun-control laws.

“I want performance in education. It’s that simple … Did that upset the teachers union? Yes it does. We have a difference of opinion,”

The State Senate Majority Leader speaks about education legislative initiatives,

[Senator Dean Skelos] spoke of the need to adequately fund the traditional public school system while at the same time making clear that charter schools need to be part of the solution, particularly in minority communities.

… he will push to help parochial schools. While he didn’t specifically reference it, the Senate GOP and Catholic Church last year pushed for enactment of an education investment tax credit that was blocked by the Assembly Democrats.

At a union event a Black teacher and parent mentioned her daughter was in a charter school, a public school teacher began to berate her,

“How can you send your daughter to a charter school, don’t you know they throw out discipline problems and squeeze out the public school and the school is supported by hedge funds?”

The parent, angrily replied, “Yes, they throw out the discipline problems, that’s one of the reasons I send my daughter, the charter school has much more funding, it that a bad thing? And, the charter school teachers dress professionally, in the public school they dress like slobs, it’s disgraceful and demeaning”

Cuomo is far from a fool, charter school dollars and Afro-American parents might be a more effective political path than cozying up to the teacher union.

The teacher union needs a strategy.

In early January the Governor will give his State of the State address, and probably lay out his legislative goals.

Eliminating the Charter School Cap

The charter school legislation has caps on the number of charter schools in New York City and the remainder of the state. There are 27 slots remaining for New York City and over a hundred for the rest of the state. Outside of New York City the charter schools are clustered in the larger cities, Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and Syracuse. The charter schools scheduled to open in NYC in 2015 have already been approved, if the cap is not raised there will be no additional schools opening in 2017.

The charter school advocates are calling for the elimination of a cap.

The legislature could remove the cap, increase the cap or transfer the surplus upstate slots to the city; or, do nothing and push the question forward for a year.

The Teacher Evaluation Law

The law was written by all the stakeholders, the governor, the legislature and the union; the extremely complex details were written by the commissioner and approved by the Regents. In the first year teachers were rated as follows:

51% Highly Effective
40% Effective
8% Developing
1% Ineffective

We are awaiting the scores for year 2; I suspect the scores will be similar; however, the scores are statistically unstable, most of the teachers in the 1% will not be in the 1% in year 2: It is altogether likely that the only a fraction of 1% will be rated ineffective for two years in a row.

The governor is fond of commissions and could pass a law establishing a blue ribbon commission to revise/rewrite the law, or, try to increase the student test score section from the current 20% to a higher percentage.

Performance Pay

In the last budget cycle the governor set aside $50 million (in a $20 billion education budget) to support performance pay programs in school districts and encourage “innovative” management solutions, perhaps merging school districts. The governor had very few takers. Salary schedules are negotiated with school districts and neither side has had any interest. School districts have asked that the $50 million be placed in the general state school budget.

For the past 20 years New York City has had a variety of titles in which teachers receive additional pay for additional and/or different roles. Lead teachers, created in the mid-nineties, pays teachers an additional $10,000 to support other teachers. SIG grants has created a range of titles, turnaround teacher, mentor teachers, etc., once again, at a higher pay schedule, and new UFT contract also contains a number of titles with higher pay for additional training and curriculum duties.

Do the higher paid teacher titles satisfy the governor’s “pay for performance” quip?

The Property Tax Cap

The governor has been silent on the property tax cap. Two years ago the governor and the legislature established a property tax cap, except in the “Big Five,” the major cities that do not require a public vote on school budgets. The cap has made it almost impossible to negotiate contracts; day-to-day expenses increase faster than the cap forcing districts to cut programs and staffs. In the rural, upstate low wealth districts schools can barely offer the minimum courses to allow students to graduate; at least fifty districts are in “stress” category with more entering.

In high wealth districts, school taxes exceed $20,000 per year, districts are forced to cut back on program after program.

The property tax cap is popular among taxpayers, school taxes have increased year after year as parents and teachers successfully lobbied for approval.

The law does allow districts to “break the cap” with a super majority – only a handful of districts have attempted.

Is it possible to “adjust” the cap and make it less onerous?

The governor needs the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate to support legislation. Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the Assembly since 1994 fiercely defends the prerogatives of his chamber, and while the governor can chide and nudge, ultimately he has to make the deal with the speaker. The Republicans hold a one-seat edge in the Senate and can thwart any legislation, or, trade “this for that.”

The state testing kerfuffle was a disaster for the governor, as parent anger refused to fade the governor supported language that slowed the impact of the Common Core tests for five years. There are seven Regents positions up for election, two are vacancies and the other five will be running for reelection. The Regents are elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature: will the governor seek to change the powers of the Regents? To make the commissioner the appointee of the governor?

From the convening of the legislature in January to the adjournment in late June the players in Albany will be playing according to the scenario in Federalist # 51,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Read a detailed analysis of the NYS election results and the role of the union:


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