Bill de Blasio Is (Mostly) Happy With Education Deal in State Budget

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week. (Photo: Vanessa Ogle)

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year. (Photo: Vanessa Ogle)

Mayor Bill de Blasio today said the tentative state budget deal will bring additional millions in school aid to New York City and allow him first crack at fixing failing schools—but lamented the absence of an extension of mayoral control and legislation to fund tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants.

“I think I made my views known on mayoral control of education, I made my views known on the Dream Act. I was hoping both of those issues would be addressed here and now, but they have been postponed,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters today at City Hall. “We’ll obviously continue our efforts to get the Dream Act passed and mayoral control of schools renewed for a substantial period of time.”

Education policy was among the most contentious issues within the budget negotiations between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republic Senate Leader Dean Skelos. Mr. Cuomo had declared he would boost education funding by just over $1 billion only if the legislature agreed to adopt his reform plans—which included state receivership of failing schools, an increase in the charter cap, new teacher evaluations based on state exams, and changes to teacher tenure. The budget includes the funding boost, though not every one of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed reforms.

Mr. de Blasio had strenuously disagreed with the plan for a state takeover of the city’s worst-performing schools. (Mr. Cuomo’s describes those schools as “failing,” Mr. de Blasio’s office opting for the kinder “struggling.”) Earlier this month he said that allowing “bureaucrats 150 miles away trying to determine the fate of our children sounds like a formula for a disaster.”

The tentative agreement reached last night will allow New York City first crack at turning around those schools, through the mayor’s $150 million “Renewal Schools” program, which he has touted with school visits three times this month. Mr. de Blasio said today it’s a program he is “very personally involved in the management of.”

“Per this budget agreement the city will continue to play the primary role in determining the ways to best address those struggling schools,” Mr. de Blasio said.

But the option of state receivership of those schools if the city does not success is still within the budget, according to reports. The mayor said his turnaround plan has “never been tried before” and that he was confident it would work under the leadership of Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina.

“We also know that the tentative agreement makes clear that every step of the way, the action is led by the chancellor, and that’s what we thought was important here, at each stage of the decision-making process, the chancellor plays a big and shaping role,” Mr. de Blasio said. “And I feel confident that we’ll be able to get done what we need to get done to turn the schools around.”

With mayoral control of city schools set to expire this year, Albany will have to take up the matter after the budget. Mr. de Blasio originally called for a permanent expansion of his control over schools, but that was met with resistance from Mr. Cuomo, who called for a three-year extension, and Senate Republicans, who Senate education committee chair Kevin Flanagan said were “agnostic” on the issue. The Assembly has since proposed seven years, and Mr. de Blasio has said he will work for the longest term possible.

Despite Albany Republicans saying mayoral control ought to get a full hearing in the Senate, Mr. de Blasio today called the push for mayoral control “a bipartisan agreement if ever we’ve seen one.” He and former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican and a frequent foe, penned a joint letter to Albany urging the extension of the policy. He said he did not believe that his campaigning for a Democratic takeover of the State Senate last year, which did not come to pass, would endanger the passage of policies like mayoral control.

“This is the only effective way to reform education, and the alternative is to go back to a system that was rife with corruption,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We’re going to win the day on that issue, I believe in my heart, regardless of things that happened last year.”

The budget will boost statewide education funding for $1.4 billion, of which Mr. de Blasio said he anticipates New York City will receive a “substantial share” that will go toward general education funding. Mr. de Blasio had also called on Albany to drastically increase the city’s education aid as called for in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity suit, which has not happened.

“It is not obviously the same as addressing the core inequality as created by the absence of a resolution in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, this is not a follow-through on that commitment by the state, but it does look like a substantial step forward for school aid,” Mr. de Blasio said.

The state also come up a bit short on its funding for universal pre-kindergarten, providing the same $300 million it did last year, less than what the city had requested, though the mayor declined to provide specifics.

“There will be a differential. We can handle it. But we’ll have more to say in the [city] budget,” Mr. de Blasio said.

Also missing from the state budget deal is Mr. Cuomo’s proposal to increase the cap on charter schools, which will be taken up after the budget. Mr. de Blasio, who railed against charters getting rent-free space as a mayoral candidate, has previously said the cap is fine where it is.

Exact details on teacher tenure and evaluations are still emerging, but teachers’ unions, who have been loudly opposed to the governor’s plans, have painted the budget compromise as a victory.

“The hedge-fund billionaires and Governor Cuomo haven’t gotten their way. The Legislature today, led by the Assembly, reached an agreement on a package of education proposals that will immediately increase state aid to schools, provide that teachers are evaluated on more than a single student test score and ensure local oversight of struggling schools,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said.

Mr. Mulgrew said his union would be working with the State Education Department on a formula for teacher evaluations. Karen Magee, president of state teacher’s union New York State United Teachers, or NYSUT, said the Assembly “mitigated some of the worst elements of Gov. Cuomo’s toxic agenda after parents and teachers stood up to his bullying.”

Mr. Cuomo, meanwhile, touted the reforms last night.

“After decades of leading the nation in education spending but lagging in results, New York will set an example for all other states with a complete overhaul of the entrenched education bureaucracy. These reforms—accompanied by an unprecedented financial investment—will put students first by bringing accountability to the classroom, recruiting and rewarding our best teachers, further reducing over-testing, and finally confronting our chronically failing schools,” Mr. Cuomo said in a statement.