State lawmakers left work on Wednesday night without finalizing a legislative deal involving New York City education issues.
Legislative leaders announced Tuesday that they had resolved their differences on the most contentious parts of negotiations that had dragged on for more than a week past their original ending date. That deal included a one-year extension of mayoral control, a modest increase to the number of new charters that can open in New York City, and a $250 million consolation prize for private and parochial schools whose push for tuition tax credits were dropped.
But there are still a host of unresolved issues standing in the way of final deal. Chief among those for Assembly Democrats is the strengthening of rent regulations, although changes to the charter-school law were also being discussed.
“There’s nothing closed down. Everything is still open,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said after emerging from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on Wednesday evening.
Here are the other questions remaining about New York City education issues.
1. Will other changes be made to the charter-school law?
The framework deal clears the way for 25 additional new charter schools to open in New York City and gives the State University of New York more latitude to approve the schools.
On Wednesday morning, the ongoing talks included additional changes. Assembly Democrats said they sought measures to ensure that charter schools serve a more equitable share of high-needs students. A source familiar with the negotiations said one proposal would have required charter schools to serve comparable shares of special education students with more severe disabilities. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans wanted to increase the maximum number of uncertified teachers that a school can employ from 5 teacher to up to 30 percent of an entire staff.
But talks slowed on Wednesday, the source said, who said the most recent discussions involved changing “just the cap and nothing else.”
2. Will anything happen to the hotly contested teacher evaluation law?
After the governor pushed the new law earlier this year, some lawmakers were hoping to slow down the tight timeline in which districts have to negotiate and implement new plans. But nothing in Tuesday’s “framework” announcement suggested that gripes with the new law had factored into the deal — a loss for the state teachers union, which made evaluation changes a priority in end-of-session negotiations.
“We probably didn’t go as far as I hoped,” said Patricia Fahy, a member of the Assembly’s education committee, adding that she also sought to minimize the use of student testing for evaluations. “I’m a little disappointed about that, quite frankly.”
The only tweak announced so far appears to be aimed to appease critics without making substantive changes to evaluations. A law dubbed the “Parental Empowerment Act” will require “a review of growth model,” according to the press release announcing the legislative deal, referring the methodology through which students’ test score gains factor into their teacher’s evaluation.
The press release did say that the act would “require the disclosure of state exam questions and answers,” which a spokesman for the Senate said would be accompanied with $8.4 million in funding for the State Education Department. The state published only about half of questions last year, citing test security and cost concerns amid sharp criticism of the state’s testing program.
3. Will the mayoral-control legislation include any other changes to how New York City’s schools are run?
“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over in Albany,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Wednesday when asked for his reaction to the one-year extension of mayoral control — a particularly harsh blow after de Blasio lobbied for a permanent renewal earlier this year.
But despite the mayor’s deference to the ongoing negotiations, his allies in the legislature said they were mostly ambivalent about fighting to lengthen the extension.
“I think there were a lot of things that we were fighting for or against and this was part of the discussion, but we didn’t focus on it,” said Linda Rosenthal, an Upper West Side Assembly Member. “There was much more talk about rent and 421-a and all of those” housing issues that have been the focus this year, she said.
The renewal offers lawmakers a chance to make changes to the governance structure. When mayoral control was last renewed in 2009, the legislature extended it for six years but required the city to hold public hearings and study the impact of school closures or space-sharing agreements prior to approving them. That provision became a legal issue one year later, and ended up derailing the Bloomberg administration’s agenda for a year.
But there aren’t any other big changes expected to be included in the one-year renewal.
Kathryn Wylde, CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said a statement that the coalition of business leaders she represents was mostly relieved that legislative agreement “reflects an undiluted extension of mayoral control.”