Assembly Democrats are seeking another extension of mayoral control over New York City schools this year, with no strings attached.
State Senate Republicans want more charter schools in New York City, and in exchange for renewing mayoral control they’re insisting on a higher charter school cap – a link Assembly Democrats reject.
With just days left until the legislative session ends – and a few weeks until New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of the school system expires – one of the biggest questions is which side will back down.
In the past, mayoral control of schools had been extended for several years at a time. But in the wake of de Blasio’s unsuccessful attempt to campaign for a Democratic majority in the state Senate in 2014, Republicans have used the authorization as leverage while ultimately granting only one-year extensions.
After the state budget was approved in April, state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan began hammering away at the issue. In early May, he confirmed that he was linking the two education measures. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie responded that his conference was “not interested in doing anything whatsoever for an extension of mayoral control.”
A few weeks later, when the Assembly passed a two-year extension of mayoral control, Flanagan sent a letter to de Blasio warning that he would not take up mayoral control until the city shared more details about the spending of state funds.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who leads the Assembly Education Committee, called Flanagan’s tactics counterproductive.
“The consequences of not doing mayoral control for the city children would be very negative, so I don’t understand why Sen. Flanagan and Republicans are asking what they’re asking.” – Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan
“The consequences of not doing mayoral control for the city children would be very negative, so I don’t understand why Sen. Flanagan and Republicans are asking what they’re asking, because the city has answered those questions many times,” Nolan told City & State. “But, they asked for more information and we’ll go through the rest of the process. I’m confident the city can respond to their questions. I’m optimistic at the end of the day we’re going to pass something.”
But last week, Flanagan introduced three bills that would shift many unused statewide charter school slots to New York City, where the demand is highest, as well as making other changes sought by charter operators. One of the bills would extend mayoral control for a full five years while also enacting a controversial education affordability tax credit benefiting both private and public schools. The other bills would offer one- or two-year extensions.
Heastie dismissed the latest proposals from Flanagan as a “nonstarter,” and de Blasio again insisted that his continued authority over the city’s schools should be decided on its own. Of course, the two sides still could reach some kind compromise that satisfies charter school supporters and their opponents. After all, lawmakers in both parties did help raise the state’s charter school cap in 2007 and again in 2010.
In 2015, lawmakers achieved a balancing act that Flanagan may be trying to replicate this year. The changes that year technically maintained the statewide limit of 460 charter schools, but they raised the cap in New York City and also opened up more slots by reviving those that were taken by schools that had closed or failed to open. The final legislative package was applauded on both sides.