keeping control

Republicans appear likely to hold State Senate, paving way for (another) tough fight over mayoral control

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, left, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and Senate leader John Flanagan.

Republicans are declaring victory in their efforts to maintain their majority in the New York State Senate, which means Mayor Bill de Blasio could be in for another testy fight over who will control New York City schools.

The Republican-controlled Senate is the main roadblock in de Blasio’s effort to secure long-term mayoral control, and some observers thought a strong Democratic showing at the polls might alter that chamber’s balance of power.

But Tuesday’s election results signal more of the same for the legislature’s education policy dynamics, and likely means that Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan — a de Blasio foe — will retain his important position in Albany.

Republican incumbents, who staved off several Democratic challenges Tuesday night, claimed victory in a statement.

“Tonight, we have grown our majority in the New York State Senate,” read the statement from Senator Flanagan’s office.

Last year, Flanagan sparred with de Blasio over who would control the nation’s largest school system. He accused de Blasio of a “a disturbing lack of personal knowledge about city schools” and helped limit the mayor to a one-year extension of control for the second year in a row. The Senate has also been friendly to charter schools, helping to raise the city’s charter school cap and push for increases in charter school funding.

Tuesday’s results earned praise from StudentsFirstNY, an education advocacy organization that opposes de Blasio.

“New Yorkers defied expectations by rejecting a State Senate that would have turned its back on the needs of all public school students across the state,” said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis.” We congratulate Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for his impressive stewardship.”

Still, the election results have not yet been finalized since there are outstanding absentee ballots to be counted, said Tom Connolly, spokesperson for the New York State Board of Elections.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats told the Wall Street Journal that Republicans had taken a “premature victory lap” and Democrats in the Senate could still outnumber Republicans after the dust settles. Senate Democrats did not respond to Chalkbeat’s request for comment.

The GOP expects to end up with at least 31 members in the Senate, and Democrat Simcha Felder, who typically votes with the Republican conference, would give Republicans the 32 seats they need for a majority.

They are counting on a win for Senator Carl Marcellino, the Senate Education Committee chairman, who is locked in a close race with Democrat James Gaughran. The New York State School Boards Association and news outlets say it appears Marcellino has secured enough votes to win, but Connolly said the race is still too close to call and the results may not be certified for roughly two weeks.

Meanwhile, the GOP may pick up another seat in a tight race between Democrat John Brooks and Republican Michael Venditto, who were separated by only 33 votes on Wednesday afternoon.

As long as Republicans hold the Senate, New York state’s education policy is unlikely to change dramatically, said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.

“If the Republicans retain control of the Senate, then I would say that I don’t necessarily know that there will be significant change,” he said. But the election of Donald Trump, he added, could mean bigger shifts ahead.

seizing the moment

On first day for most Denver schools, gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston calls for better school funding

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston's children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

Colorado Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michael Johnston sent his son Emmett back to school Monday — and sent a message to voters at the same time about one of his longtime causes.

On the first day of school for most Denver students, Johnston recorded a video of his son carting off two large cardboard boxes full of supplies. In the video posted to Twitter, the former state senator called it another example of how Colorado is shortchanging its public schools.  

“People often ask what does it mean to have cuts to the statewide budget to education,” he said.  “Well it means a lot of those bills get passed on to parents and to kids who have to bring their own paper towels, their own wipes, their own crayons, their own boxes.”

Johnston, a national figure in the education reform movement, led an unsuccessful push to increase taxes for schools in 2013.

“We count ourselves lucky,” Johnston said in the video, adding that knows many families in Denver often feel the pinch of buying new school supplies and fees. “We think the state has an obligation to do better.”

Though the governor’s race is in its early stages, back-to-school season is a logical time for candidates to take out education positions. Earlier Monday, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, who is also running, released an online ad spotlighting his pledge to expand full-day kindergarten and preschool.

sending a message

Memphis school board leader wants to declare that ‘all are welcome here’

PHOTO: Marcus Villa/Latino Memphis
Immigrant students display their career aspirations during a visit to the State Capitol in March to support an unsuccessful bill that would have extended in-state tuition to them.

A school board member wants Shelby County Schools to send a unified message to immigrant students and parents: “You are safe in our schools.”

Teresa Jones will ask the board Tuesday to officially go on the record about protections for undocumented students in the wake of this summer’s federal immigration arrests in Memphis by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“There are speculations among parents of, ‘Should I send my child to school?’” she said Monday about the impetus for her proposal. “I want the board to take a formal stand.” 

The resolution backs up the district’s current policy of protecting student privacy and restricting the release of confidential information about immigration status to immigration enforcement agencies.

It also asks the superintendent to elevate partnerships with community-based organizations aimed at supporting families impacted by immigration raids.

If the resolution is approved, Shelby County’s school board would join elected school officials across the nation who have spoken out about President Donald Trump’s crackdown on people who have entered the United States illegally. Last fall after Trump’s election, Nashville school board members took a similar stand.

Memphis school officials sought to assure parents of the district’s policy earlier this month when the new school year opened.

Shelby County is now home to approximately 57,000 Hispanics, and 14 percent of the district’s student population is Hispanic.

Teresa Jones

The resolution by Jones, who is an attorney, cites the 1982 Texas court case Plyler v. Doe, which established that a public school district cannot deny children access to education based on their immigration status.

She said a school board vote would send a strong message to Shelby County and across the nation.

“An individual speaking is just opinion,” Jones said. “But when we have a resolution, that speaks for the entire board. It’s a different level of … commitment to our students.”

Kevin Woods, another board member, said he’ll back the position wholeheartedly.

It makes “a statement loud and clear to families of our immigrant population that they are welcome at our schools, we want them there and they are members of our communities,” he said.