As budget deadline looms, NYC chancellor visits Albany to pitch mayoral control

A man wearing glasses and a dark suit speaks from a podium with three flags in the background.
New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks traveled to Albany on Tuesday, meeting with state legislators to advocate for extending the city’s polarizing mayoral control system. Here, Banks, speaks at a press conference on Mon., Jan. 22, 2024 at the Education Department's Lower Manhattan headquarters at Tweed Courthouse in New York City. (Alex Zimmerman / Chalkbeat)

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Schools Chancellor David Banks traveled to Albany on Tuesday, meeting with state legislators to make a last-minute pitch for including an extension of mayoral control in the upcoming state budget.

The visit came just days ahead of a looming state budget deadline, and the release of a highly anticipated report on the city’s school governance system.

For more than two decades, control over the city’s school system has been centralized in the hands of the mayor. That system, which is set to expire on June 30, has been hotly debated in recent months, with a series of public hearings offering New Yorkers the chance to weigh in on the city’s school governance structure.

Critics of the status quo have argued that the current system places too much power in the hands of a single figure and diminishes local community input. Defenders of the system, like Banks, often argue that centralizing decision-making allows for a more effective and accountable system than the fractured school boards that preceded it.

Some educators who spoke at the hearings pointed to Mayor Eric Adams’ budget cuts to the city’s Education Department in arguing against the current system.

Still, Banks said in Albany that he based his case largely on his own record — arguing that he and Adams have earned an extension after their two years at the helm of the nation’s largest school system. He pointed to his sweeping literacy curriculum initiative, how the city’s schools have handled an influx of migrant students, as well as other major policy initiatives during meetings with lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Sen. John Liu, who chairs the New York City Education Committee.

It’s the second time in recent months that Banks has made the case in Albany for extending mayoral control. He appeared at a budget hearing in February. Last month, he told reporters he had “no interest” in continuing in his role if state lawmakers overturn mayoral control.

During a press briefing Tuesday evening, Banks acknowledged that the visit had been partially spurred by the approaching state budget deadline.

Gov. Kathy Hochul included a four-year extension of mayoral control in her initial budget proposal, but that prompted criticism from some lawmakers, who argue the city’s school governance structure should be determined outside the budgeting process. State lawmakers also omitted mayoral control from their budget resolution.

Lawmakers and Hochul have until Thursday to reach a budget agreement, though the deadline has already been extended once and can be pushed back again.

“I’m certainly hopeful that they can get it in the executive budget,” Banks said. “It may be a long shot, but it’s certainly part of the reason why I decided to come up here.”

His conversations with lawmakers frequently turned to an unreleased state Education Department report on the effectiveness of New York City’s mayoral control system, Banks said. That report, initially expected by March 31, is now expected to be released next week.

Some lawmakers have said deliberations on mayoral control should wait until after the release of the report.

On Tuesday, Banks said he was “anxious to see the report.” He added that during discussions, lawmakers did not suggest alternatives to the current system or advocate for a dramatic overturning of it.

“They’re ultimately going to have to make their decision,” he said. “I’m not saying that I’m confident one way or the other. I just feel good that we had an opportunity to come up and state our case.”

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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