Editorial pages and op-ed columnists regularly plead with politicians to do the right thing, to choose the common good over political expediency. As you might have guessed, these pleas are often made in vain.
That’s what makes Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rescue of the charter school movement all the more remarkable. For here is a case of a politician who not only did the right thing but who did so knowing full well that he would make an enemy of a politically powerful union, the United Federation of Teachers.
In the new state budget, passed on time for the fourth consecutive year—an unthinkable feat not long ago—Mr. Cuomo countered Mayor Bill de Blasio’s anti-charter campaign by ensuring that charters have free space in public school buildings or have access to funds to lease or purchase space. In addition, the budget deal effectively reverses the de Blasio administration’s plan to deny free public school facilities to three charter schools associated with Success Academies, run by the mayor’s bête noire, Eva Moskowitz.
Mr. Cuomo and state legislators did not simply hand the charter school movement a blank check. The budget contains language that would empower the city comptroller to audit charter schools. That power was murky at best until now. Comptroller Scott Stringer already has expressed his eagerness to conduct such audits. In the spirit of transparency, he should do so. Inefficient charters absolutely should be identified and either reformed or closed.
While this may seem like a major political defeat for Mr. de Blasio, it’s important to note, as our cover story does, that he has succeeded in placing pre-K education front and center in the ongoing debate over public schools. He didn’t get his soak-the-rich tax hike to pay for pre-K—that was never going to happen—but his arguments and passion persuaded the state to spend $300 million for pre-K programs in the city. He now has the funding he needs to move forward with the centerpiece of his successful campaign last year.
Going into this year’s budget talks, it was hard to imagine a scenario in which both the governor and the mayor would emerge with politically important victories on education policy. But that’s precisely what this budget delivers.
That took no shortage of political skill and willpower. And in the end, the common good prevailed over special interests. Not a bad result.