Tag Archives: Zephyr Teachout

Eva, Andrew and NYS Politics: Why is Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy Network CEO so politically influential?

A quick review: The charter school law in New York State passed in December, 1998 at a lame duck session of the legislature called by Governor Pakati – two items on the agenda, the charter school bill and a raise, BTW, the last raise legislators received!  The law  established a quota on the number of charter schools, currently New York City  is about 25 schools below the quota, the quota for the remainder of the state is about 150 schools below the quota. Supporters of charter schools range from Milton Freedman acolytes, the anti-teacher union cabal, and, recently, Republicans feasting on charter school political action dollars. The Republicans have very few charter schools in their districts.

Under the law the Charter School Institute, part of the State University (SUNY) and the Board of Regents are charter school authorizers. The Charter School Institute maintains a detailed website – Check out here. Check out the Charter School Office of the New York State Education Department here. While the organizations, SUNY and the NYSED must comply with the law they have differing standards re approving charter school applications and renewals.

Charter Schools receive authorizations for five years, and, in the fifth year the authorizer reviews the performance of the school, The SUNY Charter School Institute extends the charter for an additional five years, or, rarely, closes the charter school. The NYSED Charter School Office can recommend to the Regents reauthorizing charters from two to a full five years, or, fail to renew and close the charter. See the just released “NYSED Protocols for Charter School Site Visits: 2017-18.

In the Spring, 2017 the SUNY Charter School Institute submitted ten requests for the extension of charters that were years away from renewal to the Board of Regents, the schools were all in the Eva Moskowitz run Success Academy Network, The Regents returned the requests to SUNY with the following comments,

Renewals to Charters Authorized by the Trustees of the State University of New York 
Your Committee recommends that the Board of Regents return the proposed charters [ten Success Academy Charter Schools with two, three and four years remaining before expiration of the charter] to the Trustees of the State University of New York for reconsideration with the following comment and recommendation:

Approving the renewal of any charter school years before the expiration of the charter does not allow timely review of the school’s educational and fiscal soundness, community support, legal compliance, or means by which the school will meet or exceed enrollment and retention targets for students with disabilities, English language learners and students who are eligible applicants for the free and reduced price lunch program. The charters should be abandoned, and the schools should be directed to resubmit the application no earlier than one year prior to the expiration of the charter term.

Under the law the extensions will go into effect after 90 days if SUNY chooses not to withdraw the renewal requests.

Why would the Charter School Institute even consider extending charters years ahead of time?  Remember the song: “Whatever Eva wants …?

Additionally, the Charter School Committee of SUNY released draft regulations: SUNY will approve plans submitted by charter networks for teacher certification in SUNY-authorized charter schools without the formal teacher certification required for all other teachers in the state.  Public comment forms open from 7/26 for 45 days here. The SUNY Charter School Institute indicated the change was necessary due to the difficulty in recruiting certified teachers; no evidence was presented to support the claim. The regulation appears to grant charter school networks wide discretion in approving prospective charter school teacher candidates.

Commissioner Elia and the Chancellor Rosa expressed  “concerns” over the plan,

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department are focused on ensuring that strong and effective teachers with the proper training, experience and credentials are educating New York’s children in every public school – including charter schools,” …. “Our review of SUNY’s teacher certification proposal is cause for concern in maintaining this expectation.”

On July 17th Ed in the Apple submitted comments to the Charter School Institute urging the Institute to withdraw the proposal and seek other avenues to recruit teachers. (Read here).

The SUNY Board of Trustees is comprised of 18 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, with consent of the NYS Senate.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the State University of New York.  The Charter Schools Committee is a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that oversees SUNY authorized charter schools. Consisting of four members [three lawyers and a businessman], the Committee “approves or denies charter applications, revisions and renewals, administers a statewide charter school grant program, and sets SUNY charter school policies and standards.”

The SUNY Board belongs to the governor.

The Regents are responsible for “the general supervision of all educational activities within the State. The Regents are organized into standing committees, subcommittees and work groups whose members and chairs are appointed by the Chancellor.”

The Board comprises 17 members elected by a joint meeting of both houses of the State Legislature for 5 year terms [actually by the Democratic majority]: 1 from each of the State’s 13 judicial districts and 4 members who serve at large. Regents are unsalaried and are reimbursed only for travel and related expenses in connection with their official duties.

The governor has no statutory authority over the Regents.

Why does Eva Moskowitz have so much clout?  Why is the governor supporting policies clearing benefiting Moskowitz?

The 2018 Gubernatorial Election:

Three years ago Cuomo had to fight off attacks from the left in his own party to win the primary and fight off a popular, if underfunded Republican candidate. Cuomo received 54% of the vote; however, if you look at a map the pink/red (Republican) districts far outnumber the blue (Democratic) districts – the deciding factor was 80% plus majorities for Cuomo in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx (See map here). A better funded Republican could have even narrowed the gap, and, the charter school political action dollars are a key: who controls the charter school PAC dollars and how can Cuomo prevents the dollars from flowing to a Republican candidate?  Think Eva.

The 2020 Presidential Election (Not Bernie, Not Hillary)

Friends say I’m crazy,  Cuomo isn’t “presidential material,” I demur. Cuomo is hard to place on the political spectrum. He led the “fight for 15.” actively fighting Trump on immigrant issues, pro-environment, not pro decriminalization of marihuana,  did not push the “Dreamer” bill, he does not easily fall into a place on the spectrum. After a solid win in 2018 he can burnish credentials for a 2020 run for the White House. Andrew will not “leave the plane on the runway” – See Mario anecdote here.

Attacks from the Left

Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and a political neophyte received 34% of the vote in the 2014 September Democratic gubernatorial primary; the left wing of the Democratic Party was clearly unhappy with Cuomo in 2014 and there are rumblings of challenges next year. Cynthia Nixon, a popular actor and activist, and, a very strong public school parent/activist is considering running. Will the Sanders voters support a political neophyte? Will the Working Families Party deny Cuomo an endorsement?

Will the teachers union remain on the sidelines?

In 2014 NYSUT, the NYS teachers union did not make an endorsement, and, a few Long Island locals endorsed Teachout in the primary. Yes, Cuomo leans toward charter schools; however, he provided the largest increase in state education dollars, shows no interest in reviving the reviled APPR test-scored based teacher evaluation plan and appears to be in sync with the Regents in implementing the 2015 Cuomo Commission recommendations.(Read here). NYSUT has a new leadership that has had a brief and fractious relationship with the governor, members don’t love him, on the other hand staying on the sidelines is like kissing your sister, satisfying for neither party.

Can any Democrat afford to “stay on the sidelines” or vote for a third party?

Yes, Cuomo tilts, or leans, or outright supports charter schools, can any democrat afford to not vote, perhaps to facilitate the election of a Republican?  Then again, Pataki, a Republican preceded Cuomo and served for three terms (twelve years). A current-day Republican governor would not only be pro charter, s/he would also be pro voucher, anti-tenure and also support sharp restrictions on increases in property taxes. Rationally, Democrats would appear to have no place to go but support Cuomo, voters are not rational. How many democrats voted for Jill Stein instead of Hillary?  Did the Stein voters tip the scales for Trump?

I know too many teachers who are lifelong democrats who simply say they cannot “pull the lever,” excuse me, “bubble in the box” for Cuomo.

Cuomo’s flirtation with Eva may end badly; yes. he may prevent charter dollars from flowing to an Republican opponent, on the other hand, he may have alienated many “irrational” democratic voters.

Brief affairs frequently don’t end well.

Read a lengthy article in Politico musing over the end of education reform in New York and the role of Cuomo here

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Education Politics is a Blood Sport: Chancellor Tisch Responds to the Threatening Cuomo Letter

The last two weeks have been strange: the NYS Director of Operations, Jim Malatras, the Cuomo policy guru sent a public letter to Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King raising “questions” in twelve different areas.
(Read the letter here)

The confrontational letter challenges the teacher evaluation system (“How is the current teacher evaluation system credible when only one percent of teachers are rated ineffective?”) The letter claims the current teacher discipline law (3020a) “makes it virtually impossible” to remove low performing teachers and asks why teachers with “disciplinary problems continue to be paid in the absent teacher reserve as opposed to being terminated.”

The “questions” challenge the length of the probationary period, encourages more rigorous standards for pre-service teachers, supports monetary incentives for high performing teachers, asks the Chancellor to address the “deplorable situation in Buffalo,” the charter school cap, online courses, the consolidation of school districts, mayoral control in New York City, the system for selecting Regents members and the process for selection the new commissioner.

I was not surprised by the letter.

NYSUT, the state teacher union has been tussling with the Governor for months, demonstrations, e-blasts to members, press releases, a steady stream of criticisms of Cuomo policies and statements. Cuomo was on his way to another term with meager opposition, suddenly, an obstacle. An unknown Fordham law professor, Zephyr Teachout challenged Cuomo at the Working Families Party (WFP) convention. The WFP is actually the left wing of the Democratic Party. Many in the WFP were unhappy with the Governor; he hadn’t pushed hard enough on the Women’s Equity Agenda, on ethics reform, on the public funding of elections and a range of other issues. Surprisingly Teachout became the darling of the left wing of the left wing, the left wing of the WFP; after considerable arm-twisting the WFP endorsed Cuomo giving him another line on the ballot.

Out of nowhere Teachout announced she was a candidate in the September Democratic primary. In only three weeks she collected 40,000 signatures to secure a place on the ballot.

NYSUT did not make an official endorsement, however, teachers all over the state worked for Teachout and a few teacher locals, including Buffalo, endorsed Teachout. She garnered 34% of the vote with no money. In November Teachout voters either stayed on the sidelines or voted for the Green Party. Cuomo, who was polling in the mid-sixties won with 54% of the vote.

I mentioned to a teacher activist to expect “consequences” if the local endorsed Teachout. He thought Cuomo “would understand.”

Politics is a blood sport. When your guy/gal wins you expect them to support your issues and when your guy/gal loses you can expect the winner to seek retribution. A deeply embedded political aphorism: screw with me and I screw with you.

Maybe you didn’t learn this in your civics class and maybe you’re willing to take the heat and continue to battle and maybe you’re simply an idealist.

In my view, the major issues for NYSUT are not charter schools and the teacher evaluation law; the major issues are the 2% property tax cap and the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

The property tax cap makes it almost impossible to negotiate a contract. Normal inflationary day-to-day expenses eat up the 2% cap. Locals who have negotiated contracts have negotiated contracts in the 1% range, sometimes with no retroactive raises, some have agreed to freeze step increases to avoid layoffs.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment (Read explanation here) was the way the state survived the economic meltdown in 2008 – basically cutting away dollars that school districts should have received under the state funding formula.

The property tax cap and the GEA are opposed by NYSUT, the State Superintendents Association as well as the School Board Association, it might have been possible to work together to ease these issues.

Unfortunately the charter school and the teacher evaluation system have eaten up all the air.

Malatras closed his letter with, “Several weeks ago Governor Cuomo said that improving education is thwarted by the monopoly of the education bureaucracy. The education bureaucracies main mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo is the enemy of change.”

Earlier today Chancellor Tisch respond with a 20-page missive (Read letter here), Geoff Decker at Chalkbeat muses on the Tisch response,

The letter offers the first comprehensive look at what the Board of Regents and State Education Department are willing to support as Cuomo prepares to push for aggressive changes to the way teachers are hired, fired, and evaluated.

Many of the other proposals and positions aren’t new, Tisch noted in an interview. Others were unsolicited, such as an increase in funding for underserved students, boosting school diversity and passing the DREAM Act.

But the letter’s contents stuck out because of the areas that Tisch and Berlin wade into that the State Education Department and Regents rarely speak up about, in part because they have limited power to change them.

“The questions and concerns outlined in the letter relate to issues of State Law, which are under the direct control of the State Legislature and the Governor, not the Department or the Board of Regents,” they write.

The Tisch-Berlin response is a defense of their own actions, a reiteration of policies that State Ed has sought from the legislature for years as well as support for issues raised in the Malatras letter. On a core issue in the original letter, the future of the Board of Regents, the Chancellor is curt – leave us alone.

The response letter calls for the extension of probation from three to five years, the elimination of independent arbitrators and the replacement with state employees, the restructuring of the teacher evaluation system with the state/school district not having to negotiate with local unions, termination without hearings for teachers with two consecutive ineffective ratings, fiscal incentives for high performing teachers, greater authority for the state to intervene in low performing schools and districts and greater funding for a range of initiatives.

For me, the most significant part of the response letter is the sections that are not a response. At the conclusion of the letter Tisch adds two areas for consideration: school desegregation and support for the Dreamers Act. Tisch-Berlin suggest exploring a number of efforts to reverse the deep segregation of schools and references a number of programs and goes on to urge the Governor to support the New York State Dreamers Act that makes a category of undocumented students eligible for state financial aid.

Next Wednesday the Governor will deliver his State of the State message, I expect he will continue to attack, and the unions will respond, the questions are whether the Governor and the unions can find some common ground, and, whether the Governor seeks changes in education governance at the state level.

In 1968 the UFT and the John Lindsay, the New York City mayor were engaged in a bitter struggle – the 40-day teacher strike, racial invective, the “white. liberal intelligentsia” traditionally pro-union viciously attacking the UFT, the growing and militant black power movement painting the union as akin to the worst of the racists of the South. A year later John Lindsay and the union negotiated a dramatic change in the teacher pension system, called Tier 1. (Read Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars). John Lindsay was considering running for president in 1972 and wanted to heal wounds and a spectacular increase in pension benefits was the salve.

Cuomo wants to “punish” teacher unions, to make it clear that attacking the Governor will have repercussions. A lesson for teacher unions and a lesson for other unions, the teacher unions have to fight back as well as seek avenues for reconciliation.

As a history teacher I’m reminded of “Going to Canossa (“Canossa” refers to an act of penance or submission), Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, dressed in “sackcloth and ashes,” humbled himself in the snow outside of the castle of Pope Gregory seeking absolution from the threat of excommunication. Henry retained his throne.

Charter school quotas and the teacher the evaluation system are negotiable, and, the core issues are the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the property tax cap, the union has to seek absolution from Pope Andrew and move on to resolve the core issues.

Cuomo versus Teachout: Do You Know Anyone Who’s Voting for Andrew Cuomo?

If you’re reading this blog you might not know anyone who is voting for Andrew Cuomo.

Teachers abhor the Governor.

The 2% property tax cap has both led to an endless succession of budget cuts in the low wealth districts and made it extremely difficult to negotiate contracts around the state. The teacher evaluation law was driven by Cuomo, the rejection of the de Blasio plan to establish a tax base for the pre-k initiative and his recent unabashed support of charter schools over the objection of the New York City mayor has angered teachers.

The enormous drop in the Common Core state tests angered parents across the state.

The New York Times did not make an endorsement; neither did the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), the powerful 600,000 member union.

Yet pollsters brush Teachout aside.

Capital New York writes,

The consensus estimate among Albany’s political professionals seems to be that Teachout will win around 20 percent of the vote, plus or minus five points. There has always been liberal dissatisfaction with Cuomo—the governor casts himself as a Solomonic centrist who can get things done in once-chaotic Albany—which, generically, is worth about a quarter of the electorate.

After some prompts, a private poll taken by the Working. Families Party to judge support for a Teachout stand-in—a fictional candidate named Teresa Woodstock—gauged support for a left-flank Cuomo challenger at 23 percent. But that was before Teachout herself began to run for anything.

The governor’s campaign is now trying to set a higher mark for Teachout. A Cuomo official told the Buffalo News earlier this week that “any protest candidate is going to get in the low- to mid-high 20s,” and the paper reported “Cuomo operatives were suggesting Teachout could get as much as 30 percent of the vote.”

The Times Union agrees,

Political handicappers, however, predict she’ll garner between 20 and 30 percent of the vote
Against Cuomo, Teachout has “the potential not to beat him, not to even come close, but to embarrass him,” said Mickey Carroll, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll…

Larry Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, backed that up. “Twenty or 30 percent wouldn’t be shocking, but it also wouldn’t mean anything,” he said. ” … So few people will be involved in this election that, short of an outright upset, it will tell you very little about her strength and very little about (Cuomo’s) weaknesses.”

The Working Families Party (WFP) in New York State is in reality the far left wing of the Democratic Party. The WFC is funded by labor unions, primarily 1199 (hospital and health care workers) and 32 BJ (workers in apartment buildings – janitors, etc.). In local elections, both primaries and in general elections the WFP both endorse candidates and provides boots on the ground. Zephyr Teachout was seeking the WFP endorsement – she would have led a third party slate in the general, the November election. Cuomo, and the unions, twisted arms to defeat Teachout at the WFP convention – she did get 42% of the delegates. She then sought to oppose Cuomo in the Democratic primary on September 9th. Surprisingly she collected the requisite number of petition signature and survived challenges by Cuomo’s legal team.

Teachout’s problem is a lack of dollars – I’ve received five mailing from Cuomo and three robo calls, one robo call from Teachout. The sages expect the usual low turnout in primary elections – maybe 500- 750,000 of the five million plus possible voters. Upstate Teachout is virtually invisible, and, many Democrats are right of center and support the property tax cap.

I was at a teacher meeting a few weeks ago and the teachers were enthusiastically supporting Teachout – I asked my normal baseline question: are you a registered democrat? The young teacher informed me anyone can vote in a primary – it was useless to argue – he was convinced – and what could an old guy like me know? Of course New York State law requires primary voters to be registered in their party a year before the date of the primary.

Andrew Cuomo is the anti-politician – his website, each and every day, lists “The Governor will be in New York City (or Albany) with no public schedule.” He never gives interviews, he gives highly scripted speeches and he’s despised by members of the state legislature. He rules Albany with an iron hand. He is a social liberal and an economic conservative, sort of. Every policy he supports or opposes seems to be poll driven, to be driven by a careful look at the route to the democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

Don’t scoff.

If Hillary decides not to run, who would be the democratic candidate? Is Elizabeth Warren too far to the left? Is Jerry Brown too old? Is there a Clinton-like democrat hiding in the South or the Midwest? A Governor? How about a socially liberal, economic conservative? And, Zephyr Teachout may be standing in the way of a run for the presidency.

Does Teachout have a chance?

It’s up to you … it’s up to the voters … and if enough teachers, parents and WFPer loyalists trek to the polls … who knows?

And, besides, Zephyr Teachout is a great name. and Teachout would reinvigorate the democratic party.