final agreement

State leaders agree to deal extending mayoral control by one year; adds NYC charters

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a broad overhaul of state education policy last year.

State lawmakers have agreed to a deal that would extend mayoral control of city schools by just one year and would allow more charter schools to open in New York City.

The one-year extension of mayoral control is a significant blow to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had requested a permanent, and then a three-year, extension of the law, arguing that it would provide needed stability as he continued his efforts to improve the city’s schools.

The one-year extension is the “best thing to do at this point,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said as he announced the framework of the deal Tuesday alongside Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

The deal comes one week before the mayoral control legislation would have expired, allowing the city to avoid the logistical headaches that would have followed if the legislation had been allowed to lapse, as it was in 2009. But the package of education changes marks another chapter in what has been a series of sobering experiences for de Blasio negotiating with Cuomo and the state legislature.

Last year, de Blasio won funding for his top education initiatives, including pre-kindergarten expansion, but was then hit with a costly new law requiring the city to provide space or rent help for charter schools after he signaled interest in restricting their access to public school buildings. This year, the legislature also passed a new teacher-evaluation law that both de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña have criticized, and Cuomo repeatedly clashed with the mayor over rent regulations and other issues.

The deal would also increase the number of additional charter schools that could open in New York City from 25 to 50. Of the 25 new charters, 22 are coming from schools that were authorized but never opened or that have closed, which under current law still count against the cap. New York City, where there is more demand for charter schools than the rest of the state, will also have three charters moved from the statewide pool of charters to its own.

The deal would also remove the specific numbers of charters assigned to both of the state’s authorizers. That would allow more city charter school applicants to apply through the State University of New York — a big deal for the larger charter school networks, whose preferred authorizer is SUNY. Before the change, just one more charter school authorized by SUNY could have opened in New York City, but the change would mean as many as 50 now could.

The state leaders also announced an infusion of about $250 million for nonpublic schools, though the much-debated education tax credit did not make it into the final deal. Cuomo said that funding — $100 million more than the education tax credit would have funneled to nonpublic schools — was necessary to help private and parochial schools struggling to stay afloat.

“If we allow those schools to continue to close and those students start moving over to the public school system, you will place an impossible burden on the public school system,” he said.

The deal, which must still be approved by the State Senate and Assembly, pushes the expiration of mayoral control to June 30, 2016. That means de Blasio is likely to spent part of the next year continuing to lobby for a policy he has spent months trying to portray as a settled, nonpartisan matter, lining up support from less-traditional allies like former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and coalitions of business leaders.

City teachers union leader Michael Mulgrew, business leaders, and charter-school advocates all found things to praise in the deal, which included concessions for all of those groups.

The unions touted the elimination of a “gag order” that had prohibited teachers from speaking about the state standardized English and math tests. State education officials had prohibited teachers and principals from discussing the tests’ contents because they sometimes had to use the same questions from one year to the next. Another part of the agreement, union officials said, requires that State Education Department release more test questions. (The state released about half of the test questions from the 2014 exams.)

“We started this session with the Governor attacking teachers and public education,” Mulgrew said in a statement. “We have ended up with no education tax credit and no raise in the charter cap, with only four charters reassigned to the five boroughs.”

“The business community is relieved that the end-of-session compromise reflects an undiluted extension of mayoral control of the New York City schools,” said Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, a coalition of business leaders that advocated for a permanent extension of mayoral control.

beyond high school

Tennessee leads nation in FAFSA filings for third straight year

PHOTO: TN.gov
Bill Haslam has been Tennessee's governor since 2011.

Equipping more Tennesseans with the tools to succeed after high school has been a hallmark of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration. And the efforts seem to be paying off as the governor heads into his final 18 months in office.

Haslam announced on Thursday that the state has set another new record for the number of high school seniors filing their Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as FAFSA.

With 73.5 percent completing the form for the upcoming academic year — an increase of 3.2 percent from last year — Tennessee led the nation in FAFSA filings for the third straight year, according to the governor’s office.

The increase isn’t surprising, given that students had a longer period to fill out the form last year. In order to make the process more user-friendly, the FAFSA window opened on Oct. 1 instead of Jan. 1.

But the increase remains significant. The FAFSA filing rate is one indicator that more students are pursuing educational opportunities beyond a high school diploma.

Getting students ready for college and career has been a major focus under Haslam, a businessman and former Knoxville mayor who became governor in 2011. He launched his Drive to 55 initiative in 2013 with the goal that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will have postsecondary degrees or other high-skill job certifications by 2025.

“The continued surge in FAFSA filing rates shows the Drive to 55 is changing the college-going culture in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a news release. “First-time freshman enrollment in Tennessee has grown 13 percent in the past two years and more students than ever are going to college. As a state, we have invested in making college accessible and open to everyone and students are hearing the message.”

According to calculations from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee led all states by a large margin this year. The closest states or districts were Washington D.C., 64.8 percent; Delaware, 61.6 percent; New Jersey, 61 percent; and Massachusetts, 60.4 percent.

The commission calculated the filing rates using data provided through June 30 from the U.S. Department of Education.

Filing the FAFSA is a requirement to qualify for both state and federal financial aid and is part of the application process for most colleges and universities across the nation.

To get more students to complete the form, state and local FAFSA drives have been organized in recent years to connect Tennessee students with resources, guidance and encouragement.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has championed bipartisan efforts to simplify the FAFSA process. The Tennessee Republican and former governor introduced legislation in 2015 that would reduce the FAFSA paperwork from a hefty 108 questions down to two pertaining to family size and household income.

You can read more information about the FAFSA in Tennessee here.

an almost-deal

Albany deal appears close after Assembly passes two-year extension of mayoral control

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at a 2015 press conference with Democratic colleagues

After weeks of haggling by state lawmakers — and a day spent huddling behind closed doors — the stage is set for a possible two-year extension of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of city schools.

The Assembly passed a bill in the wee hours of Thursday morning that outlines both the extension and a number of other provisions, including the reauthorization of local taxes and the renaming of the Tappan Zee Bridge for the late Governor Mario Cuomo. Notably, it does not include sweeteners for the charter school sector, which Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has forcefully opposed.

The state Senate is expected to return for a vote Thursday afternoon, though it is not yet clear if a deal has been reached. Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, did not confirm a final agreement, but told reporters Wednesday night that negotiations were “moving in the right direction.”

According to Politico, the text of the bill was released just before 11:30 p.m. and passed the Assembly around 1 a.m., by a vote of 115-15.

The bill was passed in an “extraordinary session” called by Governor Andrew Cuomo this week after lawmakers failed to reach a deal during the regular legislative session, which ended last Wednesday. Mayoral control is set to expire Friday at midnight, an imminent deadline that’s led to a flurry of “what-ifs.”

If the Senate approves the deal, it would be a victory for Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has repeatedly sought multi-year extensions but been granted only one-year reprieves. It would also allay the fears of education experts on both sides of the political aisle, who have spoken out on the need to retain mayoral control rather than returning to a decentralized system run by 32 community school boards.

Losing mayoral control “would be devastating,” wrote schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in a June 19 op-ed. “If Albany lets mayoral control lapse, there will be no one accountable for progress.”

But not everyone was pleased with the way things have gone down this week. “Today’s extraordinary session produced nothing to celebrate,” wrote Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb in a statement released after the vote. “There is no victory in completing work that should have been done weeks ago. No one deserves applause for passing bills in the middle of the night out of public view.”