Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, August 3, 2014

It Is Time To Revisit Cuomo's Charter School Budget Giveaway

Last legislative session, Governor Cuomo engineered a budget giveaway to his charter school campaign donors, forcing New York City to either co-locate future charter schools in public school buildings or pick up the tab for future charter schools on private property.

The charter school giveaway is expected to cost the city as much as $40 million dollars.

But Gotham Schools reports that a loophole in the law may mean the city has to pony up way more than that:

When Michael Duffy opened Great Oaks Charter School in a shuttered Catholic school building last year, he assumed he’d continue to pay rent as Great Oaks expanded, year by year, to eventually serve grades 6 through 12.

Starting this year, however, he’s hoping the city will pick up the tab.

Duffy’s newfound optimism comes months after the passage of a new state law that seemed to offer little to schools like his. The legislation grants some charter schools a right to publicly-funded space, but lawmakers said then that it would only help brand-new schools or schools that decided to apply for a new charter to add grades.

“The initial conclusion that I had was that it wouldn’t apply to Great Oaks because it would only apply to new schools,” said Duffy, who is the president of the Great Oaks Foundation. “I kind of put the issue aside.”

That changed in June, when the New York City Charter Center CEO James Merriman told charter leaders that he interpreted the law differently. And if the city accepts that reading of the law — or if the interpretation holds up in a legal dispute — the city could be on the hook for millions of dollars more in rent than it expected.

Merriman told school leaders that the law could also be read to include charter schools in private space that are adding grades under their current plans, like Great Oaks. The Center’s guidance on the law has encouraged schools to request that assistance from the city beginning this year, triggering a process that could mean big savings for the 45 charter schools that the Center says are still growing in private space.

When Cuomo pushed through the charter school giveaway in the budget fight last spring, he was coming from a place of political strength.

He had just engineered a slapdown to Mayor Bill de Blasio over charging charter schools rent, he had beaten de Blasio over the pre-K/tax issue, and, just to put an exclamation point on it all, had forced de Blasio to either find space for charters or pay rent for them in private spaces.

That was in the spring.

Now it's the summer - and Cuomo is no longer coming from a place of political strength.

Having had the NY Times publish a three page expose of how he meddled with the Moreland Commission on Public Corruption to ensure that his donors were left alone in any investigation and been publicly warned by the US Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, over witness tampering and obstruction of justice charges when Cuomo engineered public support from some Moreland Commissioners in order to use that support in his own public statements of defense, Cuomo is at the weakest point of his governorship.

The press around this has been brutal - the newspaper stories and editorial pages to be sure, but also the TV coverage.  Cuomo was savaged on Morning Joe all last week and the week before, Jon Stewart opened a show mocking Cuomo over Moreland.

Cuomo has been flailing about trying to find a response to the bludgeoning he's receiving, but that response - to coordinate statements of support from former Moreland Commissioners and use those as proof positive he didn't meddle in the commission's work - has made his plight even worse.

As Stephen Gillers wrote in The Nation last week in a piece entitled "Andrew Cuomo's Watergate":

Before Monday, I and others had been trying to figure out what statutes Bharara may have been looking at. Certainly, he could pursue evidence of corruption by state officials, including lawmakers, whom the commission had been investigating before it was dismissed, and about which it had files.
But Cuomo’s claim that he had a right to disband the commission, because it was “my” commission, did not seem to be a basis for federal investigation even if it was a politically foolish decision and defense.

Now, Bharara has a basis to investigate Cuomo himself and his aides. The statute would be 18 USC 1512(b) and possibly others. It is a crime to knowingly corruptly persuade another to keep information from an official proceeding. That’s the Arthur Andersen case in the Supreme Court, among others.

There is a sitting grand jury, which is an official proceeding, and former commissioners must have been aware that they could be witnesses even if not yet subpoenaed. Cuomo would also be so aware.
Bharara is warning Cuomo that any effort to coordinate a false story (of nonintervention) that these commissioners would tell the grand jury if called would be a federal crime. This is so even if their statements are so far only public statements, even if the effort fails because the commissioners don’t testify. The statute forbids attempts.

Now, as I say, it may all be innocent. The commissioners who spoke out, and who prior to doing so may have been contacted by the governor’s people to solicit their statements (Bharara says he “has reason to believe” they were), may have spoken truthfully with no “knowing corrupt persuasion” at play.

But Monday’s events put the governor is at risk in ways he was not before. The US obstruction statutes are incredibly broad. Whoever got the idea to coordinate the concurrent commissioner statements, assuming there was coordination and not a coincidence, and even if any such idea was entirely benign, may not have been aware of what they were handing Bharara for investigation.

What we have here now is a wounded governor, up for re-election but also under federal investigation, a governor just publicly chastened by the US attorney for potential tampering and obstruction charges and very much open to criminal indictment on those charges.

This is not a governor who can engineer the kind of giveaway he engineered for the charter school lobby last spring - and make no mistake, it was Cuomo who engineered that, as the NY Times made clear back in an April report:

It was a frigid February day in Albany, and leaders of New York City’s charter school movement were anxious. They had gone to the capital to court lawmakers, but despite a boisterous showing by parents, there seemed to be little clarity about the future of their schools. 

Then, as they were preparing to head home, an intermediary called with a message: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wanted to meet. 

To their surprise, Mr. Cuomo offered them 45 minutes of his time, in a private conference room. He told them he shared their concern about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambivalence toward charter schools and offered to help, according to a person who attended but did not want to be identified as having compromised the privacy of the meeting.
In the days that followed, the governor’s interest seemed to intensify. He instructed charter advocates to organize a large rally in Albany, the person said. The advocates delivered, bringing thousands of parents and students, many of them black, Hispanic, and from low-income communities, to the capital in early March, and eclipsing a pivotal rally for Mr. de Blasio taking place at virtually the same time.

The moment proved to be a turning point, laying the groundwork for a deal reached last weekend that gave New York City charter schools some of the most sweeping protections in the nation, including a right to space inside public buildings. And interviews with state and city officials as well as education leaders make it clear that far from being a mere cheerleader, the governor was a potent force at every turn, seizing on missteps by the mayor, a fellow Democrat, and driving legislation from start to finish.
Mr. Cuomo’s office declined on Wednesday to comment on his role.

Cuomo's engineering of the charter school giveaway, not all that dissimilar in scope and intent from his Moreland meddling, saw him control events from behind the scenes, stage manage a rally to give the impression that the support for charters was bigger than it was (as Blake Zeff pointed out, the polling was actually with de Blasio), then push through a political outcome he wanted after some "negotiations" that already had foregone conclusions for how they would end.

Pre-Moreland mess, Cuomo could do this kind of engineering of political outcomes and stage managing of political events and get away with it.

Post-Moreland mess, he cannot.

In addition, as has been reported throughout the media last week, Andrew Cuomo is essentially friendless - he has few defenders in the time when he most needs them:

What the episode has done, people involved in government and longtime observers say, is make it OK, for the first time since Cuomo came to office, to defy him.

Where once other officials wouldn't publicly oppose the famously controlling governor, out of fear, they now will. Where once they would have flocked to his side, they'll now bide their time until they're satisfied that he's gotten a grip on things.

Bharara has very publicly seized control of Cuomo's narrative: Cuomo is no longer the white knight, he's the guy who reversed positions multiple times and presides over an administration under federal investigation. Just another Albany politician.


Added one Democratic strategist: “When they see [G.O.P. gubernatorial candidate Rob] Astorino do it, and [Democratic primary challenger Zephyr] Teachout, and now Preet—it will embolden people. He's basically had no real opposition for the last three years. People will start saying, 'He's not our ally, fuck him. Let's go after him.”

This mixes with an element of schadenfreude—indeed, the past weeks have offered the bubble's revenge. People in Albany knew about Cuomo's word-parsing, micromanagement and willingness to make threats, but have never before seen it called “fucking ridiculous,” or “ham-fisted” on national television.

This has been a fundamental thrust of both of his opponents: that Cuomo is arrogant and unliked. Now, they're also pointing to the Moreland mess to say that he's as bad as the ethically dubious politicians he's criticized.

In a post from last week, I wrote that

If you're opposed to Cuomo's policies, now is the time to strike against them and him.

The charter school giveaway Cuomo engineered in the spring could not happen any longer, not in this environment - it is time to try and walk some of that giveway back in the next session (especially now that Gotham Schools reports the city could be on the hook for a lot more money than was first thought)

It is also time to put more pressure on the governor and the Legislature over Common Core, testing and APPR - what is the governor going to do, tap another Common Core Commission to try and get his way on things?

The power and influence to "persuade" and "engineer" things behind the scenes that Cuomo exhibited for most of his first term is gone now.

So now is the time to push back against him, to push back against the policies he forced through in his first term.

Now is the time to say "Fuck him, he's not our ally! Let's go after him!"

And what I say is, it's about time. 

I'm doubling down on those statements today.

Now is the time to revisit Cuomo's charter school giveaway, particularly with the city on the hook for what looks to be millions more than originally forecast when Cuomo engineered the Eva Moskowitz budget back in the spring.

This will take some doing, of course - Cuomo thinks he's still got some juice and I'm under no illusions that either he or the charter school operators/hedge fund managers who back him are going to give back easily what was granted to them in the last budget giveaway.

But there has never been a better time to strike against Cuomo - before the election, while he remains under a "legal cloud," while politicians behind the scenes are saying "Fuck him, he's not our ally!"

Cuomo is politically wounded and vulnerable.

You can bet if the shoe was on the other foot, Cuomo would pounce on his enemies.

Let us seize the moment and pounce on Cuomo, Eva Moskowitz and the charter school giveaways Cuomo shoved through last spring.

1 comment:

  1. Who is going to pounce on Cuomo for us: Michael Mulgrew, Karen Magee, Andy Pallotta or Randi Weingarten? Love your stuff but this group is aligned with Cuomo. Have you ever heard Mulgrew talk about Cuomo at a DA?