On Tuesday voters across the nation will cast ballots that will decide the control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in New York State voters will determine the control of the State Senate.
The 150-member Assembly is firmly in control of Democrats, led by speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced the disgraced Sheldon Silver.
The 63-member Senate is currently controlled by a slim, a very slim Republican majority, a one-vote majority. If there is a blue tsunami, a blue wave or a blue ripple the Democrats will gain control of the Senate.
The history of recent control of the Senate is covered with shame, the last two Democratic leaders of the Senate, both Afro-Americans, were convicted of crimes and incarcerated. The current Democratic leader in the Senate is Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an Afro-American woman representing Westchester.
If the Democrats prevail they will convene after being sworn in and select a majority leader; while Stewart-Cousin will probably prevail there may an opponent: Michael Gianaris, The Democrats in the Senate have always been a contentious group, divided by geography, race and just plain old political ambition. The Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) peeled away eight democrats and shared leadership with the republicans. If you want a friend in Albany: buy a dog!
I suspect Stewart-Cousins will become the majority leader.
Both houses if the legislature will be led by Afro-Americans.
Who will Stewart-Cousins appoint a Education Chair? from New York City? the suburbs? a person of color? How will Stewart-Cousins meld her senior members with her new members? How will she avoid identity politics? Can she build a collaborative majority or a fractious membership, some of whom may split off into a new IDC-like coalition?
The session kicks off with the governor’s State of the State message, laying out his policy agenda for the session. followed by the governor’s draft budget; in New York State the governor sets the parameters of the budget and from January until the end of March the “three men in a room,” excuse me, the two men and Andrea, hash out the budget. Governors can add non-budgetary items to the budget, the courts sustained this practice.
While the democrats control both houses representatives, regardless of party, will fight for issues important for their district. The loudest voice in the room is the governor.
In the last session about 15,000 bills were introduced in the Assembly, fewer than 500 became law; with both houses in democratic hands legislators will push hard for passage of their bills.
Legislators are both collaborative and competitive. Some legislators introduce twenty bills and others a few hundred, bills are assigned to committees and the committee chair is the gatekeeper. Some bills are similar to others bills, whose bill makes it to the floor? The speaker and the majority leader are the final gatekeepers. It is rare for a bill to come to the floor that will not pass. Each party has almost daily conferences, closed meetings at which the members argue/debate bills, if there is sufficient opposition the speaker/majority leader will set the bill aside.
Education funding, although not sexy, is at the top of any education agenda. The combination of the limit on state and local tax deductions (SALT) and the 2% property tax cap is stressful. On one hand suburban districts pay extraordinarily high property taxes and the property tax cap is popular, on the other hand school districts are eating into reserves.
I suspect the legislature will take a deep dive into the way schools in New York State are funded. I doubt a bill can be agreed upon before the April 1st budget date; however, the state could select a commission to address a new school funding formula.
To further complicate New York City legislators will advocate for the full funding of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit – billions of dollars; an example of division by geography.
The State Education Department is currently creating a list of budgetary and non-budgetary asks, over the past decade budgets have been stingy when it comes to State Education funding initiatives.
Over the years democrats and republicans, urban and suburban, have worked out budgets within the fiscal constraints set by the governor.
The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is the union representing teachers in the 4400 schools in New York State; the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is the union representing teachers in New York City.
A major issue for NYSUT is teacher evaluation, the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). We are in the last year of a moratorium on the use of student testing data to assess teacher performance. In the post-budget legislative session the Assembly passed a bill championed by NYSUT that would have moved teacher assessment decisions to local school districts, at the last moment the Republican leadership in Senate held the bill hostage, and took no action. Will the NYSUT-supported bill pass the legislature early in the session, or, will the governor decide to delay the discussions until after the budget? The State Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, has made it clear; the Regents and the State Education should be involved in any APPR revisions.
Charter school advocates are nervous, and they should be! For election cycle after election cycle charter school PACs poured money into Republican Senate campaigns, Republicans with no charter schools in their district.
The charter school cap in New York City is about to be reached, unless the governor decides to fully jump on the charter school bandwagon the cap will not be raised.
In number of areas the charter school law is permissive, charter school critics may advocate for a tightening of the legislation, more transparency, and, perhaps, limiting the contribution tax write-offs for charter school philanthropy,
The SUNY Charter School Institute decided it had the authority to certify prospective charter school teachers, a policy that was sharply criticized, and the courts ruled SUNY had exceeded their authority. Will the legislature limit the authority of the SUNY Charter Institute? Merryl Tisch, during her tenure as leader of the Board of Regents attempted to move all charter schools solely to the Board of Regents.
Individual legislators will introduce bills that require that school districts to protect (you write in the noun) or provide curriculum for (again, you write in the noun) or prohibit or require (whatever), many of these proposals cost dollars that are not provided in the proposal.
Some proposals will be high profile, reported in the print and online media, be subject to public meetings and others quietly proposed and passed without much public scrutiny.
Virtually every organization employs lobbyists, from organizations representing school boards, superintendents, small cities, mid-sized cities, the Big Five, the Gates Foundation, Scores of organizations bring members to Albany, usually on Monday and Tuesday attempting to meet with legislators. I say attempting because legislators attend committee meetings and the session meetings; a grassroots type of lobbying.
Gideon John Tucker, a Surrogate Judge in New York Country wrote in an 1866 decision, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”