Lawmakers ask for education data watchdog, though similar access was granted 7 years ago

Senate leaders who want New York City to release more education data to an independent watchdog should be pleased to know that their goal has already been partially achieved.

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan introduced a bill Friday that would grant a new “education inspector” access to records and data from the New York City Department of Education as a condition of extending the mayor’s control of the schools. It’s a proposal that appears to draw inspiration from a 2009 mayoral control deal when those powers were designated to the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Since then, the IBO has regularly analyzed data about school demographics, school performance, and the city’s education budget, and released public reports with their findings.

“The access to information being proposed for this is similar to what we have, or mimics what we have,” IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky said.

Flanagan did not respond Monday to questions about what additional transparency he is looking for. But what the proposed “inspector” and the IBO could do with the department’s data would be quite different, Turetsky noted.

The Senate’s bill allows the education inspector to appeal decisions made by the Panel for Educational Policy, which approves school co-locations, among other decisions. The IBO does not have power to intervene in policy decisions.

The new bill also instructs the inspector to make recommendations on a number of issues, including school funding and discipline procedures.

But the inspector’s job of “oversight, guidance, and technical assistance” is, in part, being fulfilled by an expanded IBO. The IBO has released reports this year analyzing the mayor’s “Equity and Excellence” agenda, explaining a new measure for quantifying poverty, andrevealing a mismatch between the city and governor’s budget proposals.

Flanagan’s proposal is the latest in a troubled back-and-forth between de Blasio and Senate Republicans over mayoral control. Last year, lawmakers blocked a long-term extension of mayoral control, and granted him one year of control instead. This year, Flanagan and other state lawmakers blasted de Blasio for skipping a second mayoral control hearing.

On Monday, Flanagan said he had “deep reservations” about signing off on a long-term extension of mayoral control in a statement sent to reporters. But also said he strongly supports putting one individual in charge of city schools — a statement that seems at odds with an education inspector who could appeal decisions made by the city.

The State Assembly already approved a three-year extension of mayoral control. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he does not support Flanagan’s bill. Without legal action, de Blasio’s control of the school system will expire at the end of June.

This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on June 6.