Brand new Brooklyn Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley wants to pick up where his high-profile predecessor left off: trying to block Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to close schools.
Before he was elected to Congress last year, Hakeem Jeffries was the lead sponsor on a bill that called on a two-year moratorium for closures in New York City. It passed overwhelmingly in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, but then lost momentum. First, it died in the Republican-controlled Senate and then lost its sponsor when Jeffries headed to Washington, D.C.
Now, union officials and other advocates who oppose the Bloomberg administration’s school closure policies are looking for a new lawmaker to carry the torch for this year’s session.
“There’s quite a few people who are looking at doing it,” teachers union president Michael Mulgrew told GothamSchools this week.
Despite his long-shot chances as a freshman lawmaker, Mosley said he stands ready to take the reigns.
“Other lawmakers might want to take it as their own, but right now we’re proposing it as our own,” said Mosley, who said he campaigned in part on the promise that he’d breathe life into Jeffries’s old bill.
“To me, it’s only right that we press the pause button and reevaluate what we’re doing from a government standpoint to make sure that every child is treated fairly,” Mosley added.
The bill seeks to immediately halt school closures in New York City and would last through the 2015-2016 school year. During the moratorium period a state-controlled committee of education experts would be convened to review the impact that closures have the school system.
Union officials familiar with the bill said that they doubted the bill could be passed and signed into law before March, when the city’s school board is scheduled to vote on — and likely approve — 26 school closures.
Closures are a hallmark policy of the Bloomberg’s brand of education reform in New York City and 140 schools have been shuttered on his watch. Many of the schools were large, low-performing high schools, which the city has replaced with hundreds of smaller schools that have, on average, yielded higher graduation rates while serving less needy students.
But to close a school is a contentious process that brings fierce and organized opposition from the school community and the teachers union. Recently, criticism has come from new places as well. Three of four Democratic mayoral candidates recently called for a moratorium and top-ranking state education officials have expressedconcern that the closures disproportionately affect students with the highest need.
Bloomberg has also replaced them with 163 charter schools, many of which share space in district school buildings in an arrangement called co-locations.
Another bill, introduced last week for the second year in a row by Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, would give communities the power to approve co-location proposals for their local schools.
Sources say that it’ll be difficult for Mosley to end up as the bill’s lone sponsor since those decisions are made by Assembly leaders.
Mosley, a former district leader, won with both Jeffries’s and Mulgrew’s endorsement. Despite his opposition to school closures, Jeffries also supported charter school co-locations and drew praise from education reform groups during his Congressional race. The UFT chose not to endorse him in his primary race against Councilman Charles Barron.
Mosley wrote on his campaign web site that he wants to “ensure that parents have a choice about where to send their child to school,” but he said in an interview that charter schools “are not an option for everyone.”
“They are an exception, an alternative way of educating our children,” Mosley said.
Whoever ends up the Assembly sponsor, Avella thinks the bill has legs this year in the Senate, where legislation that threatens Bloomberg’s education agenda has historically gone to die.
Avella told GothamSchools yesterday that he is hoping to tap into the Senate’s new power-sharing dynamic, which includes a coalition of five Democrats who are voting as an independent conference.
The leader of that coalition, Jeff Klein, has in the past battled with the teachers union for voting to raise the charter cap and do away with seniority layoffs. But he sided with the union on school closures.
Klein’s Bronx district includes Lehman High School, which has been the chopping block for years. A year ago, Klein joined with the school community to oppose a closure proposal.
“The community, teachers and administration have been working tirelessly on their own ‘turnaround’ policy for the high school which is showing positive results in just the few months it has been implemented,” Klein wrote in a letter to the department last year, according to the Bronx Times. “I would ask that phase-out be stalled for at least another year to give the new principal and administration more time to implement their programs.”
As a co-leader of the Senate — alongside Republican Dean Skelos — Klein now wields far greater power over what bills get voted on and could decide to back the bill. Avella said he hoped to win Klein and the other four Democrats in the independent coalition over.
Klein’s spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.