On education policy, state lawmakers face many of the same tests as last year
Like students repeating the same class year after year, state lawmakers are poised to debate key education policy matters in 2017 – mayoral control of schools, charter schools, tax credits for private schools – that are largely the same as those that came up in 2015 and 2016.
The question mark is in the state Senate, where the agenda remains unclear since control of the chamber depends on the outcome of a couple of too-close-to-call races on Long Island and the loyalties of a number of breakaway Democrats.
If state Senate Republicans do maintain control, they will likely continue to pursue their perennial goals of expanding school choice by raising or eliminating the charter school cap and passing the Education Investment Tax Credit, a measure that would encourage donations to both private and public schools.
State Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, a former chairman of the Senate Education Committee, is also expected to continue to focus on education funding. Last year he insisted on increasing school funding enough to fully eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, a program of sharp education cuts imposed in the wake of the Great Recession.
State Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino is currently involved in an election recount against his Democratic challenger and did not respond to repeated interview requests. The initial state Board of Elections results showed Marcellino leading his challenger by 2,425 votes, but Democrats have refused to concede.
Even if Republicans lose the state Senate, giving Democrats control of every major statewide body or office, the incoming administration of Republican President-elect Donald Trump could shake things up in New York. During the campaign, Trump took up the call to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, a long-held goal of conservatives, and suggested that education policy be determined instead at the state level.
Trump has also attacked the controversial Common Core education standards. The state Education Department’s review of the education standards and teacher evaluations is ongoing, so those issues may stay on the backburner until the review is completed. While Trump cannot repeal the state’s adoption of the Common Core standards, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who leads the Assembly Education Committee, expressed concern about what Trump’s education policy could mean for New York.
“It’s a set of standards the states adopted. It’s not so much about repealing it, but if they eliminate the department, then the carrots and sticks the (U.S.) Department (of Education) had to encourage people to look at Common Core will be gone,” she said.
Nolan said she’s also heard talk of a block grant program for education aid if the federal agency were eliminated, and will continue to monitor the situation.
In the Assembly, with its solid Democratic majority, lawmakers expect to continue to emphasize such issues as school funding, a fair distribution of that funding to schools across the state and preventing over-testing for English language learners.
Assembly Democrats also plan to keep pushing a bill introduced last year that aims to reduce suspensions and keep students in school with the goal of reversing the “school-to-prison pipeline.” The legislation was a priority of former state Chief Judge Judith Kaye, who died in January 2016.
“In some ways there’s certain constant themes,” Nolan said. “We want to see adequate funding and fair funding for education. There’s been some talk that the Regents may look at some changes to foundation aid and I want to make sure we’re really careful in any review of that, because we want to do things that will help the high-needs districts, obviously, and be fair.”
An extension of mayoral control of schools in New York City is also certain to again be a contentious issue in the state Legislature.
The state has passed two one-year extensions since 2015. The Assembly has repeatedly passed a three-year extension, but New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political foes in the Republican-controlled state Senate have not agreed to anything beyond a one-year extension. De Blasio supports a seven-year extension, but last year he said he would accept the Assembly’s bill.
“Obviously I support continued mayoral control,” Nolan said, “and I think that giving Mayor de Blasio one year these last two years was not in the best interest of kids and education and the city.”
WHAT GOT DONE:
- Increased funding to end the Gap Elimination Adjustment
- One-year extension of mayoral control of schools
- Requiring lead testing in schools’ water
- Reformed the process to authorize and reauthorize high-performing charter schools
- Provided an additional $50 million in funding for capital projects on SUNY and CUNY campuses
WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA:
- Mayoral control extension
- Fair and adequate funding for schools
- Student discipline reform
- Expanding or eliminating the charter school cap
- Education Investment Tax Credit
NEXT STORY: 421-a renewal tops labor agenda during 2017 state legislative session