Tag Archives: Governor Pataki

The New York State Legislature, Charter Schools and the “Big Ugly:” A Lesson in Civics (aka, Realpolitics)

Realpolitics: political realism or practical politics especially based on power as well as on ideals.

Why is politics so contentious? Why can’t people get along? Why is everything so partisan?

I can also ask why don’t Mets and Yankee fans get along. Giant and Jets fans?

Politics is contentious, sports are contentious, factions are part of human nature and factions can be passionate.

In Federalist # 10 Madison wrote,

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. The friend of popular governments never finds himself so much alarmed for their character and fate, as when he contemplates their propensity to this dangerous vice

 Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.

 Madison acknowledges that factions are at the heart of a democracy,

 Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

Faction, while at the heart of a democracy, can be destructive, one remedy, autocracy, destroys democracy.

We should be teaching students that ideals should drive policy; however, different people have different ideals and different paths to achieving their goals. Passion can be constructive or destructive.

New York State politics is contentious: Republicans versus Democrats, the governor versus the legislature, and Democrats versus Democrats; to the average voter the process seems frustrating, partisan and driven by lobbyist dollars.

The New York State legislature is in the home stretch with a crowded agenda. The legislature meets from January till mid June with two key periods, the days leading up to the April 1 budget deadline and the last few days of the session, referred to as “The Big Ugly,” the last few days when “this” is traded for “that,” For decades, with a brief interlude, Republicans have controlled the Senate and Democrats the Assembly. For twelve years a Republican sat in the governor’s perch (Pataki) and the last eight years Andrew Cuomo. The “three men in a room” made the deals. At the budget deadline the leverage was with the governor and he crammed in whatever he could, the courts granted the governor wide discretion in establishing budget parameters. (Read here).

Prior to the 2018 election Republicans controlled the Senate, and, in the final days, of the budget or the end of session, the “big ugly,” the Republicans used their leverage to pass charter friendly legislation, for example, in exchange for extending mayoral control in New York City. The charter school political committees (PACs) pumped dollars into key races, the Republicans won and “returned the favor.”

In the November, 2018 elections the Democrats swept Republican seats, the very seats that received support from the charter school PACs.

The leverage moved from the Republicans to the Democrats.

The key charter school issue is the charter cap in New York City. The law sets a cap on the number of charter schools and the cap has been reached

The City and State website  speculates over whether the governor supports raising the cap.

… the [charter school PACs] long-standing allies in the state Senate Republican conference are out of power; Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently revived the issue. “We support raising this artificial cap,” Rich Azzopardi, the governor’s spokesman, told the New York Post in mid-April. “But the Legislature needs to agree as well.”

Despite Cuomo’s support, charter school proponents face resistance from teachers unions and many Democratic lawmakers who want to leave the cap unchanged. The issue is “not even on the radar screen,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said recently, according to North Country Public Radio.

Within the last few days the New York State of Politics blog quotes the governor as outlining 10 issues for the end of session and charter schools are not among his priorities.

The leverage has shifted.

An election two weeks ago for a vacant City Council seat may bear on Albany politics. Interim elections to fill vacant seats are non-partisan, no party designations, and New York City matches contribution 8 to 1 .

In an election with numerous candidates the UFT, the teacher union supported a candidate. Farrah Louis who was not favored; however, her educational positions were in line with the positions of the union. She defeated a candidate endorsed by the former City Council member, Jumaane Williams, who is snow the Public Advocate.

The “lesson” is not lost; fighting with the union will have consequences.

Not only will the charter school cap not be lifted it is possible legislation hostile to charter schools may be folded into the “big ugly.”

A few bills dealing with the reauthorization of charter schools and the auditing of charter schools have just been introduced.

Factions will advocate, seek allies, lobby electeds and as the adjournment date, June 19th approaches totally disparate bills will be linked, factions will find “friends,” at least for the moment.

Elections have consequences, charter PAC dollars “elected” Republicans who used their leverage to pass charter friendly legislation; an election cycle later Democrats defeated the charter PAC endorsed candidates, elections have consequences, the leverage switched, and, we can expect that legislation more friendly to teacher unions and public school advocates may become law.

Madison reminded us governmental systems must control themselves, and competing factions are a control.

“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices [checks and balances] 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.

 Ideals, factions and politics and  are part of our contentious democracy.

Albany 2017: What Can We Expect from the Governor, the Legislature and the Regents?

In a few weeks Donald Trump will put his hand on a bible and repeat the constitutional oath of office, a month or so later the Senate will confirm Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. Yes, she’s totally unqualified, is totally committed to vouchers, to charter schools and an enemy of public schools. Unfortunately the Senate has 52 Republicans and it is highly unlikely that three Republicans will vote against DeVos.

It is impossible to know how a Trump presidency will impact New York State: drastic cuts in federal entitlement programs, cuts in federal support of Medicaid, a range of possibilities that will adversely effect New York State finances are all possibilities.

With a dark cloud hovering   the Albany legislature convened today.

A coming attraction of the legislative session.

The Assembly and the Senate:

The New York State legislature is off and running, and very unhappy. The issue: the absence of a salary raise. The last raise was at a lame duck special session in December 1998; Governor Pataki offered a salary raise in exchange for the charter school law. Yes, that’s right, a simple “deal” that was supported by Democrats as well as Republicans. The legislature can only vote raises for the incoming legislators. Almost everyone gets reelected, in fact, they are voting raises for themselves.  Legislators will have had twenty years without  a raise; with the increasing turnover in the legislature most of the members have been elected since 1998.

Legislators are paid $79,500 plus per diems for days in Albany plus a stipend for serving as a chair of a committee ranging from $4,000 to $16,000 for the few top committees. The legislature convenes on January 4th, sessions will be held two days a week, increasing in time until the April 1 budget date, and, resume after the Easter-Passover break and adjourn in mid June.

The legislature has extremely low favorability ratings with the public.

Each member maintains an office in their district, with sufficient funding to pay for a small staff.

About 15,000 bills will be introduced in the Assembly, maybe 500 will become law.

The Assembly is led by Carl Heastie, the relatively new Speaker. The Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the 150 member Assembly. The Senate is more complicated, much more complicated. There are 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans in the 63-member Senate; however, five Democratic members broke away from the other Democrats and formed the Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) led by Bronx Senator Jeff Klein. The IDC caucuses with the Republicans; John Flanagan, the majority leader of the Senate leads the Senate, although, he requires IDC acquiescence.

The Democratic Assembly members wanted a raise and were willing to give up outside income, the Republican Senate members wanted a raise and were unwilling to give up outside income. The Governor wanted a strict ethics package …. eventually … the talks faded.

Democratic Assembly members who were unhappy with the Governor, now despise him.

They hinted they would not attend the Governor’s State of the State address, the Governor changed the process, five separate addresses across the state with invited guests only. (I sent in my request for an invite – we’ll see)

The Governor:

Governor Cuomo rarely, very rarely gives press conferences; he strictly controls media access and the narrative.

On one hand he chose to attack teachers and their union, to support charter schools, to vindictively punish teachers for the widespread support of Zephyr Teachout, and, to reverse course, dump Merryl Tisch as leader of the Board of Regents as well as Tisch supporters on the Regents, support a moratorium on the use of testing to assess teachers, support substantial increases in state aid; if he hasn’t made 180 degree change in attitudes towards teachers its pretty close to it.

His adoption of the Sanders/Clinton “make colleges free” plan resulted in headlines in the national press.

Cuomo’s gubernatorial campaign for reelection in 2018 is off and running with an eye on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in 2020.

Angry Democrats and/or Republicans could sidetrack an April 1 on time budget embarrassing the Governor.

Remember the political aphorism: when you toss a rock into a pool of feces you never know whose going to be splashed.

The Issues:

State revenues are down, Trump’s policies could reduce federal dollars to New York State or more likely shift budgetary responsibilities from the feds to the state.

With budgetary woes hovering can the state afford to begin to implement the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) judicial decision?

Will the state continue to increase state aid to school districts at the rate of the last few years?

If the legislature does not agree to an April 1 budget the Governor can opt to fund the state through the continuing resolution process, unwieldy,; however, Governor Patterson used the process to bypass the legislature.

The Cuomo apotheosis: The Governor is far more in sync with the current leadership of the Board of Regents. The December 2015 Cuomo Commission Task Force Report set out a roadmap and slowly the Regents are moving to implement the recommendations.

The elephant in the room are the over 200,000 opt out parents. The state tests later this spring will continue to be three days for English Language Arts (ELA) and three days for mathematics. The evolution to computer-based testing and the problems with lack of computer hardware and band width could lengthen the testing period. The Regents are in the midst of building a new accountability plan for the state could move from proficiency (a single score) to growth (a comparison of last year to this year), or, begin to experiment with alternatives, such as performance tasks, portfolios, that are referred to as authentic assessments.

The Regents have been flirting with a big question: high school diploma requirements.

Do the current high school diploma requirements prepare students for the world of work and post secondary education?

Should we revert to a lesser or specialized diploma for students with disabilities?

Should recent immigrants have to meet the same requirements as all other students?

Why are Career and Technical Education, (CTE) programs, formerly known as Vocational Education declining across most of the state?  Are state policies and regulations too complicated? antiquated? Can/Should the state directly intervene to create more CTE schools/programs?

Are we adequately preparing prospective teachers?  Why has the enrollment in college teacher preparation programs dropped so precipitously?  Can the state both uncomplicate and bring coherence to teacher preparation programs?

New York State leads the nation in the inequality of school funding. Richer, higher tax school districts spend  far more dollars per student than poorer, low tax districts. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. About 80% of education dollars come from local property taxes, state aid from Albany is distributed in a fairer manner; however the variation in per capita funding remains immense. Should the Regents propose a major revision in school funding?  A political land mine!!!

Will the Assembly, the Senate, the Governor and the Board of Regents dance together, or, will the dark clouds hovering over the nation’s capital move East?

A nineteenth century political wag wrote, “No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State legislature is in session.”

Maybe a little too pessimistic,  the agenda is full, and I am cautiously hopeful.

The Albany Riddle: Can the “Average Person” Make an Impact on the Albany Legislative Process?

Which state lost the most Democratic House of Representative seats on Election Day?

New York State – 4 seats, 25% of the total seats lost nationally.

The Buffalo Chronicle reports,

Governor Andrew Cuomo is being blamed for staggering Democratic Party losses in the House of Representatives.

Despite the Governor fundraising upwards of $45 million for his own reelection campaign and finishing with many millions still in the bank, his beleaguered fellow Democrats received minimal financial support from the Governor — and top party operatives in Washington, DC are rumored to be irate.

Cuomo’s administration has been disgraced by corruption scandals in the last few months that are ongoing. He had been hoping for an election win that would catapult him to national political prominence.

… Governor Cuomo burned some very serious bridges with House Democratic leadership, which observers say could prove stifling for his presidential ambitions.

Throughout the summer and fall Cuomo was leading his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino in the polls by twenty plus points and dwarfed Astorino in fund-raising. The Republican National Committee (RNC) gave him no chance and did not invest in his campaign. The Democrats were hoping that a Cuomo landslide would drag along the remainder of the ticket; they hoped Cuomo would have deep coattails.

Cuomo decided to run an almost non-partisan campaign, while on the Democratic line his campaign was aloof from the hurly-burly of campaign politics.

The head of the ticket usually scoots around the state campaigning for fellow party members running for Congress, the Assembly and the Senate, Cuomo flooded the airwaves with his ads and ignored contentious races around the state.

Cuomo eschewed traditional democratic politics; he decided to sever himself from the teachers union, to rollback property taxes, to mumble incoherently around immigrant rights, extending rent control, decriminalizing marijuana, and a long list of progressive issues.

The state Senate was “up for grabs,” the pre-election Senate was run by Republicans and the Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC), Jeff Klein and a handful of Democrats who bolted the party and created a power sharing arrangement with the Republicans.

With the head of the ticket apparently rolling to victory the chances for a Democratic victory in the Senate looked bright. The Republicans won five of the six seats targeted by the Democrats.

When the dust settled the Democrats lost four House seats and the Republicans captured the national and the state Senate.

The state has traditionally been run by “three men in a room,” the governor, the speaker of the Assembly and the majority leader of the Senate, ultimately they control all legislation – for the last two years Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC increased the team to “four men in a room.”

Post-election day the Democrats increased their majority in the 150-seat Assembly to 110 seats and the Republicans, with 32 seats in the 63-seat Senate hold sway.

The subplots were many.

This was a particularly partisan campaign. NYSUT, the state teacher union jumped in totally on board with the Democrats. Usually the union is strategic, endorsing candidates on both sides of the aisle. And, even if the Democrats had won, Jeff Klein and his IDC buds might have decided to remain in the middle, thwarting a Democratic majority.

Will the Governor and the Legislative Leaders Call a Lame Duck Session?

A “lame duck” session is a legislative session held after Election Day and before the newly elected legislators take their seats. In 1998 Governor Pataki called a lame duck session with two items on the agenda, a salary bump and a charter school law. Not surprisingly both bills passed; there is talk of a lame duck session before the end of the year. Could we see a deja vu, a deal involving a pay bump and raising or eliminating the charter cap, some election reforms, and other sweeteners? This is Albany: Nothing surprises.

Pre-Kindergarten Funding, Charter Schools and other Mischief

Legislators will begin the trek to Albany in January, for the first two months three-day a week sessions and the budgeting process slowly picks up speed. Bills are introduced, the traditional Tuesday invasion by the lobbying public, a session Wednesday and back home. Over the two years of the session (1/1/15 – 12/31/16) about 12,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly and about 3-400 will end up as laws. Some legislators introduce hundreds of bills, other relatively few. On a slow day 300 or so emails will pop up on a legislator’s computer, on a busy day 1.000 or so. An intern sorts through trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, constituents, who warrant an answer and the machine-generated letters. The fax hums and prints all day, once again constituents may get an answer. On Tuesdays the hordes descend, some make appointments, other simply drop by hoping for the best. I have sat with a legislator: CUNY students opposing a tuition raise, dairy farmers concerned with milk quotas, nursing home owners worried about state reimbursements, lobbyists representing a particular client who wants help in resolving an issue with the state, on and on. Some legislators meet with groups, other pass the task along to a staffer.

As legislators draft bills they may seek co-sponsors, what bills should you join?

Click on the following:

Check “keyword” and type in “education” and 946 bills with education in the title will appear.

Each bill requires a companion bill on the Senate side, preferably with a Republican sponsor, the more co-sponsors you can line up the better, the bill is assigned to a committee, and if it involves dollars it also goes to the finance side, the budget committee. The vast majority of bills sputter and never make it to the floor; those that do may pass and die due to lack of action on the Senate side. And, if you’re determined enough to get a bill through both houses the bill requires the governor’s signature to become a law.’

A legislator who had been a science teacher introduced a bill that allowed unused New York State Textbook Law (NYSTL) dollars to be used to buy science supplies – the bill would not add any dollars to the budget.

Endless meetings with other legislators, science teachers, science teacher organizations, school board associations, the state education department and others, months and months go by, finally the bill passes both houses and goes to Governor Patterson’s desk for signature – he vetoes the bill – the veto message says the no cost bill is too costly!

In the waning days of March as the three-day a week sessions increase to four, to five, to the last few days of almost around the clock sessions, the “three men in a room,” actually their staffs, craft the one hundred forty billion dollar state budget.

Read a summary of the 2014-2015 budget: https://www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2014/pressRelease14_enactedBudgetReleased.html

On the final night the parts of the budget come fast and furious as legislators vote on the hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense charts and graphs, hours after hours of votes on a budget that the legislators will have to read about on the blogs to comprehend.

In order to fund the $300 million for pre-kindergarten for next year the governor may extract something from the mayor? Will another concession to charter schools be part of the budget settlement? Or, conversely, will an adjustment to the property tax cap be included to ease the burden for stressed school districts?

The school budget is an enormously complex set of formula and the state has still not restored the formula that cut dollars as a result of the 2008 fiscal collapse. How will the budget deal with “stressed” districts, school districts that are in effect “educationally bankrupt,” they can’t meet statutory requirements due to lack of dollars?

Passing Laws and Preventing Laws from Passage: Reining in the State Education Department

Before or after some legislative sessions “the conference” meets just off the floor of the Assembly chamber; actually the majority caucus, a closed door, members and top staff only, with the tacit agreement that what is said in the conference stays in the conference. Conference is an opportunity for the leadership to test the pulse of the members and the members to express themselves.

In the last session Leonie Haimson, who leads Class Size Matters, led an assault on InBloom, the plan to build a warehouse of private student data and allow third party providers to use the data. Leonie built a movement, parents from around the state battered their legislators, the commissioner fought back, legislators felt the pressure and InBloom is no more.

Parents from affluent school districts were appalled by the new Common Core test results, kids moved from highly proficient to below proficient. Legislators were bombarded, the number of “opt-outs” escalated, the pressure grew and grew and in the waning days of the session a law was passed to postpone the impact of the Common Core tests on students and teachers.

Lawmakers are sensitive to grassroots constituents as well as the high profile lobbyists.

BTW, did you make a contribution to a candidate? Did you work in a campaign? Have you ever met with your local legislator? Do you write letters to the editor in your local newspaper? Do you write a column in your homeowner association newsletter? Do you ever visit your legislators in their community office?

Phone conversation: “I’m Jane Smith, representing the 650 members of the Every Town Parent-Teacher Association; we would like to meet with the Assembly member to discuss …….” I bet you get a meeting.

As Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision stated, “a sound basic education consisted of ‘the basic literacy, calculating, and verbal skills necessary to enable children to eventually function productively as civic participants capable of voting and serving on a jury. All students in New York public schools therefore have the right to an opportunity for a meaningful high school education, one which prepares them to function productively as civic participants.’”

We should be role models by acting as “civic participants” in the legislative process.