Will the NYS Legislature Require Transparency in Charter Schools?

James Madison: “If Men were angels, no government would be necessary…” “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 (Federalist Paper # 51)

Politics is a messy business, even in the best of times; Otto von Bismarck, a late 19th c German Chancellor, a believer in realpolitik, the idea that realism and practicalities should outweigh ideology and emotion in political decisions is quoted, “Laws are like sausages. It is best not to see them being made.”

These days making sausages is a lot more sanitary than lawmaking.

In the current Congress Republicans and Democrats are necessary to pass laws; in the NYS legislature Democrats control both houses of the legislature, the Assembly and the Senate.

On Tuesdays, from January until June the halls of the Legislative Office Building (LOB) is crowded with folks advocating for this bill or that bill, Thousands of bills are introduced during each session and only a few hundred become law.

Aside from ordinary citizens paid lobbyists prowl the halls, more accurately develop relationships with the key legislators. An example is Patrick Jenkins, one of the most influential lobbyists in Albany, a college roommate of Carl Heastie, the Speaker of the Assembly; Jenkins is currently named in a federal investigation. There are scores of lobbying firms as well as lobbyists who may work for unions, corporations, (de)former organizations, or NYPIRG (New York Public Interest Research Group.

Bills are introduced early in the session; the session begins in January and most of the business centers around the budget, the state fiscal year ends March 31 and budgets are approved by April 1; however, the budget is far more than the allocation of state funds. The governor can add items to the budget bill that have nothing to do with the budget (See Pataki v Silver).

There is no limit to the number of bills a legislator can introduce, Linda Rosenthal has introduced 246 bills many dealing with women’s rights, protecting animals, tenant rights and a wide range of other bills. Bills are assigned to committees, and, depending on the bill, multiple committees. Some bills have multiple sponsors, increasing the chance of moving forward. Most bills languish at the committee level. The “gatekeeper” is the Speaker, who controls the flow of legislation.

There a number of bills relating to  charter schools; more than in prior years, almost all limiting the authority of charters.

  • A03598 Relates to the enrollment of students at charter schools, the suspension of students at charter schools and the administration of charter schools
  • A01559 Requires the location of a proposed charter school be included in the charter application
  • A02648 Relates to imposing certain conditions on the approval of a charter school application

                       A03231 Relates to the transparency and accountability of charter schools

  • A04688 Prohibits the approval of a charter school application when such school would operate within the Buffalo city school district
  • A05116 Relates to applications for charter schools
  • A05117 Relates to revisions to charter schools
  • A05118 Relates to charter schools in cities with a population of one million or more
  • A05119 Relates to the takeover and restructuring of failing schools
  • A05135 Relates to charter schools

One of the bills  (A03598) agrees with one of my recent blogs no, I had no influence in the filing of the bill. The memo describing the bill, calls for greater accountability for improving and advancing student achievement. 

“When the New York State charter school laws were first enacted in 1998, its stated purpose was, among other goals, to improve student learning and achievement, and to increase learning opportunities for all students, with special emphasis on expanded learning experiences for students who are at-risk of academic failure. 

 Almost twenty years later, there remains an on-going debate whether charter schools in this State are in fact achieving their statutory goals; in particular, educating and retaining ELL students, students with disabilities, and students from underserved families, the very students that charter schools were created to serve. 

There is also a growing concern that charter schools routinely suspend or expel low performing students, or pressure them to withdraw from the school.  Despite repeated inquiry and requests, charter schools have not been forthcoming in providing the necessary data to determine the accuracy of these criticisms. Any form of accountability relies on transparency and the communication of accurate, relevant information.  This bill would, among other things:

1. increase the reporting requirements of charter schools and the commissioner of Education;

2. require charter schools to adhere to the same disciplinary rules and procedures as those imposed on public schools; and

3. clarify that charter schools that do not meet their statutory and contractual goals should not have their charters renewed”

The final days of the legislative session are called “The Big Ugly,” the rush to pass bills in the final days.

Civics education is crucial; every student should be familiar with the workings of our democracy. The aromas are sweet as well as noxious.

How do we teach civics and the “dark side?”   Be honest.

Some electeds oppose restrictions on charters to mollify charter school parents and encourage campaign contributions. Yes, direct contributions are public and limited, Independent Expenditures, (See Citizens United SCOTUS decision here) are both unlimited and can be anonymous. Charter opponents, unions and public school parents, have clout due to membership voters.

Landlords oppose restrictions on building, tenants support building low and middle income housing, almost every bill has advocates and opponents and dollars are at play. Running for office is expensive and the state does not subsidize elections; NYC does subsidize city elections.

How do we teach the noxious side of politics?

We acknowledge, men are not angels. Our founding fathers were slaveholders. Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe. Jefferson fathered six children by Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman and his deceased wife’s half sister. John Adams and the Federalists passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, clearly violating First Amendment guaranteed freedoms of speech and the press.

In the final days of the legislative session deals in the darkest corners of Albany will be agreed upon, in some cases after making changes in the bill, in others bills will be combined, the endless machinations of the “big ugly.”

… the session ended Friday on a whimper rather than a flurry of deal making that typically happens in June at the state Capitol.

That meant the top priorities for some lawmakers and advocates went unfinished, prompting legislative leaders to vow to potentially hold a special session later this year if deals can be reached.

“As always, we know that our work is never-ending when it comes to improving the lives of the people of this great state, and we stand at the ready,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said in a statement.

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