it's a deal

It’s a deal: Lawmakers agree to extend mayoral control of New York City schools by one year

PHOTO: Kevin P. Coughlin-Office of the Governor/Flickr
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference in 2014.

Lawmakers agreed to a one-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools Friday night, a short-term deal that represents a swipe at Mayor Bill de Blasio and sets up another year of political games between the mayor and state lawmakers.

As expected, the agreement avoids a total lapse in mayoral control, which would have caused procedural headaches for the city. But it represents a defeat for the mayor, who has now twice been unsuccessful at winning support in Albany for a longer-term deal.

In recent days, the Senate and Assembly had been locked in a stalemate on the issue. By Thursday evening, it was clear that Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan — de Blasio’s chief antagonist over mayoral control — had won out.

“While one-year extensions are no way to treat our children, families or educators,” de Blasio said in a statement after the deal’s announcement, “this action is a crucial acknowledgment by State lawmakers that the education progress we have made in New York City could not have happened without our accountable control of the school system.”

The deal includes provisions that require the release of more detailed budget information about New York City schools, according to information sent out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. Senators added that measure as part of a last-minute deal that State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia called troubling on Friday.

“We believe that a one-year extension of mayoral control with reforms that require school-by school budget data to promote greater fiscal transparency is in the best interest of students and their parents,” Flanagan said in a statement. (It was not immediately clear whether the bill will require information about individual schools or just the city’s community school districts.)

Lawmakers also agreed to give districts until the end of the year to negotiate the details of new evaluation systems for teachers and principals. according to Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland. Districts, including New York City, have been facing a Sept. 1 deadline to develop systems that complied with an unpopular 2015 law.

The deal also will allow charter schools to more easily switch between authorizers. That could mean the city’s education department, which oversees a number of charter schools but no longer accepts oversight of new schools, could see some of those schools depart for the State University of New York or the state’s education department.

That provision would only apply to “high-performing charter schools in good standing,” according to the governor’s office.

The deal avoids a number of provisions that would have been even more difficult for de Blasio to stomach.

It does not include an “education inspector,” part of an earlier Senate bill that would have given a governor-appointed watchdog the power to veto decisions made by the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, according to the details released Friday evening.

It also does not include a package of education tax credits that would benefit private schools.

Mayoral control was the most significant aspect of the deal, though, which lawmakers were expected to vote on Friday night. The issue has long been part of a larger political struggle between de Blasio and state lawmakers.

De Blasio attempted to upset Republican majority power in 2014, and has often feuded with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

This year, the mayor traveled to Albany for a four-hour long hearing, which Flanagan dismissed as displaying de Blasio’s “disturbing lack of personal knowledge about city schools.” De Blasio then skipped the second Senate hearing, setting off an avalanche of criticism from lawmakers annoyed by the mayor’s no-show.

A decision to extend mayoral control means the back-and-forth between de Blasio and state lawmakers will cement itself as an annual affair.

End-of-session discussions were also consumed by political jockeying. The Senate introduced two bills, both of which contained “poison pills” for either de Blasio or Assemblymembers, including the education inspector and a package of education tax credits. On Friday, senators threw in the measure to force schools to release more information about their budgets, complicating negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Assembly and the governor have been pushing for a long-term mayoral control extension since the beginning of the session.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg first won control of the city’s schools in 2002, and was granted seven years.

A number of prominent business leaders have stood with de Blasio on the issue, saying that fighting over control of the schools creates unnecessary instability.

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.”