The NYS Legislative Session and Education: What Can We Expect in Albany?

Gideon John Tucker (February 10, 1826 – July 1899) was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. In 1866, as Surrogate of New York County, he wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s lifeliberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

On January 8th Governor Cuomo laid out his priorities for the 2020 session in his State of the State speech to a joint meeting of both house of the legislature and a few thousand invited guests.

For Cuomo’s first eight years he faced a Democratic Assembly and a Republican Senate with the Governor as the referee. Cuomo cracked the whip; the progressive arm of the Democratic Party was constantly thwarted as Cuomo successfully increased his authority.

In this year’s speech, well over an hour, the governor had a long list of proposals,

Cuomo’s most high-profile proposals – laid out in his annual address Wednesday in Albany – include legalizing recreational marijuana and calling for state legislators to reveal their tax returns. He is also proposing guaranteed paid sick leave for nearly all workers statewide and an expansion of universal pre-kindergarten, as well as a $3 billion environmental bond act to combat climate change.

 And, barely mentioned education.

In about two weeks he will reveal his budget, and, how he intends to close a $6.1 billion gap primarily caused by structural increases in the cost of Medicaid.

In New York State the governor controls the budget. His control is the result of two NYS Court of Appeals decisions, Silver v Pataki that affirmed the powers of the executive office.

 When it comes to appropriations bills, the Senate and Assembly can only reduce the spending the governor has proposed or eliminate it entirely. Legislators cannot change the conditions on how the governor wants that money spent. They can add spending, but the governor has the power to line-item veto those additions.

 In the run up to the 2014 gubernatorial election a few teacher unions on Long Island opposed Cuomo and supported Zephyr Teachout in the Democratic primary. After an easy victory in the general election in the 2015 legislative session Cuomo used the budget to add a year to teacher probation and a number of pro-charter school items.

The Working Families Party has been publicly critical of the governor from the left; perhaps critical is too kind a term, at times they were far harsher than the Republicans. An election commission tasked with working out raises for the members of the legislature also sharply increased the threshold for a place on the ballot in state-wide elections, a decision negatively impacting the WFP’s ability to get on the ballot.

Politics is a full contact sport.

The pressure from the left will now come from the new, young progressives elected to the Senate in 2018.

Shelly Mayer, the chair of the Senate Education Committee held a series of forums and hearing across the state asking for feedback about the controverisal Foundation Aid Formula, the state’s share of school funding.

The foundation aid formula was devised in 2007 to drive financial equity among New York‘s school districts by using state aid to balance uneven property taxes. The formula weighs factors like a district’s poverty, educational costs, regional costs like labor, and local property values

 I attended the NYC hearing: Read my testimony: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YUHhryzXza8-utRP8_FdeEuPK0Yne_u9Ovica3S1C6I/edit

No one is happy with the formula.

Read all 100 plus pages of the Foundation Aid Formula here.

The complexity of the formula and the competing interests of school districts will make it unlikely that the legislature, in an abbreviated session, can address both the inequities and the political thicket.

The NYS legislature adjourns in June 2nd, three weeks earlier than the previous sessions due to June 23rh party primaries.

In my view, as I wrote in my testimony; the best will be the appointment of a commission to return with recommended changes, or, a commission whose report will become law unless the legislature amends the recommendations avoiding unpopular votes.

Another option is simply doing nothing.

Whether the state still “owes” school districts dollars (for NYC: 1.1 billion) under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit will eventually be decided in court. The governor has made it clear he considers the CFE lawsuit a closed matter.

Are there any other education issues?

Yes, the education dollars for the 20-21 school year will the impending state budget deficit impact the State Education request for a $2 billion increase? Probably. How vigorously will the class of 2018 in the Senate fight for education dollars and how effective will the democratic leader, Andrea Stewart –Cousins be in reining  in or unleashing her new members?

The 1971 Hecht-Callandra law requires  that specialized high schools in New York City only use an examination for admittance; repealing or amending the law did not gain any traction during the 2019 legislative session. The criticism of the exam, the only requirement for admission is widespread, finding an alternative has eluded legislators.

The governor has yet to sign the bill taking over two Long Island schools districts, Hempstead and Wyandanch, if he fails to sign the bills die. The school districts have been dysfunctional for years; the governor has been silent on his reticence to sign the bill.

Deep in the night of March 31 as bills are passed before they are read:  who knows?

Cuomo showed political acuity in not joining the rush to the White House, de Blasio’s campaign never gained traction and Bloomberg is spending tens of millions and is still in the low single digits. Where does Cuomo want to go?  A fourth term in Albany? A run for the Senate against Gillebrand in a primary?  Will he use his budgetary powers to add a non-budget issue that will burnish his reputation, gain political allies or punish perceived enemies?

No man’s lifeliberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Postscript: California Governor Newsom makes education funding the # 1 priority in the state with a wide range of funding priorities.

 

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