Teacher Politics

The New York state education wars are heating up. This has been coming for a long time. For some reason, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has decided that there is political gold in sticking it to teachers. Needless to say, teachers and their political leaders and allies are not pleased. There are a lot of teachers and a lot of teachers’ families and a lot of people who have been taught by the good teachers in New York. Teachers, who have devoted their lives to educating us, have a lot of friends.

The Democratic New York state Assembly is certainly siding with the teachers and their unions. When Andrew Cuomo was first elected governor and made known his preferences for charter schools, for limiting school budgets, and for making it easier to fire teachers, he was quickly branded by many teachers as an enemy of education. Take charter schools. Certainly, there are arguments to be made for these schools. Choice is just one reason for allowing these schools to flourish and grow. Parents who were, in certain cases, subjected to segregated and failing schools were given an option, just as wealthy New Yorkers had opportunities to choose private schools or in some cases, test-driven specialized public schools. On the other hand, charter schools are often backed by wealthy patrons who, in some but not all cases, think that their tax dollars are going down an endless hole with little to show for it. Some politicians have realized that a good way to get campaign dollars from these wealthy folks is to back their charter efforts. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio was swept into office on an anti-charter platform but was soon disabused of his intentions to curb charters by Andrew Cuomo who is fiercely pro-charter. De Blasio quickly gave way, perhaps because of the immutable law in politics that “The city is a creature of the state.” De Blasio can’t afford to tick off Cuomo.

In the meantime, over in the New York state Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver rules his house in a Sphinx-like manner. He is not nearly as likely to give into Cuomo as he once was and Cuomo has not shown the clout he once had. Silver is not about to give up his relationship with the New York City teachers. Cuomo wants the legislature, which now limits the number of charters that are available, to authorize more charters. In fact, there is a movement afoot to have unlimited numbers of such schools. Silver may give Cuomo a few more charters but he is not about to open the flood gates. This is one time that the members of his Democratic Assembly Caucus are in synch with their leader. Also, all chief executives, from mayors to governors, want education under their purview. Mike Bloomberg achieved that in New York and now Bill de Blasio is the beneficiary. Cuomo is known to want that kind of power at the state level and that would mean the abolition of the New York State Board of Regents. Without a long explanation, trust me, Shelly Silver gets to appoint the members of the Board of Regents and that is NOT about to happen on his watch. As Cuomo’s power diminishes, the clout of the Assembly Democrats will increase. In the meantime, the recently augmented Senate Republicans will have little to say on the subject. They will have to support the charter schools but Silver and his Democrats will prove to be too great a force for them to get anywhere.

I’ve been talking to some of the leaders of the teachers union and their antipathy towards Cuomo is, to put it mildly, huge. If Cuomo wants to go somewhere national with his political career, he had better take care.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 1/16/15
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