Democrats won enough state Senate races on Tuesday to secure a majority for the first time since 2010, and in the process gained control of the New York legislature.
Senate Republicans previously held a working majority of one seat but in a midterm election where Democrats fell short in some races nationally but had a strong showing in the Empire state, the result was not surprising given statewide trends.
What do Tuesday night’s results mean for the future of education in New York? Not all issues fall along party lines, but there are a few things that are likely gain traction in the new legislative session in January.
Don’t be surprised to see a push for more state funding for local districts, an issue that every progressive Democrat who ran for office campaigned on.
They, like others who have fiercely pushed for more state funding, point to a school funding lawsuit that forced the state to come up with a new funding formula. Advocates for increasing the money flowing from Albany argue this new formula was never fully implemented, meaning the state still owes billions of dollars to districts.
The Democratic-controlled state Assembly has typically called for more funding than what is proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also won re-election Tuesday. But with advocates for more state funding in both chambers, it’s possible there will be more pressure on Cuomo to open the coffers a little even as the state faces a budget deficit and potential economic uncertainty.
But that doesn’t mean it will happen, said David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. There is a property tax cap on districts (though these don’t include New York City) that rely on tax revenue for their schools, and Bloomfield doesn’t think Cuomo would raise state taxes to bring more funding in.
“You’re basically dealing with a state aid formula that’s fixed except for the margins,” Bloomfield said.
The support that the charter sector enjoyed from the previous legislature, thanks to strong backing from Senate Republicans, will likely erode, with several progressive Democrats having campaigned on platforms that included reining in charter schools.
That could mean an increase in oversight of charter schools. Proposals to regulate them more have previously failed in the senate, owing to Republican opposition.
As state officials approved another batch of charter-school openings in New York City this week, the state inched even closer to a legal limit on how many charters can open in the five boroughs and across the state.
Charter advocates want lawmakers to increase this cap, but it’s possible that the newly shaped legislature won’t even consider it.
Mayor Bill de Blasio will look for legislators to renew his control over the city’s education system.
In the past, Senate Republicans used the issue as a budget bargaining chip and also as a way to punish a mayor who has often campaigned against them.
But a Democrat-led Senate doesn’t necessarily mean de Blasio will easily win support for renewed mayoral control within his party.
Some progressive Democrats, who support more grassroots governance, don’t support mayoral control, including former City Council education committee chair Robert Jackson, who had won 89 percent of the vote with 93 percent of precincts counted on Tuesday night.
But even these Democrats may hesitate to quickly return to the old system of local control, which would introduce new complications.
“I don’t think there’s legislative appetite,” Bloomfield said, “ to go back to community control.”
It’s more likely that mayoral control will be easier to reauthorize, and that de Blasio will earn a more than a one- or two-year extension, Bloomfield said.
This week, the Board of Regents signaled it would extend its three-year-old, temporary ban on using state English and math exams to evaluate New York teachers.
By extending the moratorium by one year, state officials signaled they wanted more time to figure out the best way to evaluate teachers, a subject that has provoked prior backlash from educators and families.
And, with the extension expected to come right before the start of the legislative session, it’s possible that a Democratic-controlled legislature will seize the moment to make legislative changes to teacher evaluations.
Last year, the state Assembly passed a bill that would untie teacher evaluations from test scores, but it failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Democrats could try to raise the issue again, now that it might garner more support, or develop another bill after the Regents study the issue further.
A Democratic-controlled legislature might be more friendly toward finding alternatives to suspending students.
Easton, from Alliance for Quality Education, said discipline reform “was never going to see the light of day in the Senate.”
But a shift in party control could mean an easier path for those who want the state to shift away from punitive discipline policies in schools.
Last year, Assembly education committee chairwoman Cathy Nolan sponsored a bill that, in part, would require educators to use suspensions as a last resort to discipline students. The bill didn’t make it to a final vote.
In New York City, de Blasio has promoted a restorative justice model for student discipline, cutting back on suspensions, but the idea remains controversial among some teachers who say the approach doesn’t do enough to ensure orderly classrooms.
In a statement, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan called Tuesday’s results “disappointing,” but that senate Republicans will “continue to be a strong and important voice in Albany.”
“When we need to push back, we will push back,” Flanagan said. “And where we can find common ground, we will always seek it.”
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, widely expected to be the first female majority leader, projected more Democrats would win their races Tuesday night as results rolled in.
“I am confident our majority will grow even larger after all results are counted, and we will finally give New Yorkers the progressive leadership they have been demanding,” Stewart-Cousins said in a tweet.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said that David Bloomfield does not think Gov. Andrew Cuomo would raise property-tax caps on districts throughout the state. Bloomfield was referring to state taxes, not district property taxes.