The conversation on education reform in the State Budget appears to have shifted. Sources say last night Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governor Cuomo had a long talk about some of the Governor’s policy proposals and now, finally, there seems to be some movement on the budget.
Assembly Democrats conferenced the proposed changes this afternoon, which include taking charter schools out of the discussion. Governor Cuomo had wanted to raise the cap to allow more charters, but as of now that will be taken up at another time, likely later in the session. The Governor also appears to be backing away from his insistence that “failing” schools be placed into a receivership. Democrats staunchly oppose this. Weakening teacher tenure is also on the chopping block ( Cuomo wanted to make it harder for teachers to gain tenure ) and a formula for teacher evaluations is still being worked out. Democrats described the overall mood on budget talks as “very different.” No longer was Cuomo taking a “storm-the-beach” approach on his controversial education reforms. Many of those ideas have now been “uncoupled” from the revenue appropriations they were attached to. That paves the way for compromise, and an on time budget, at least within the the world of Democrats who had loathed the Governor’s approach. But of course, Republicans still need to come around on ethics, if the budget is actually going to be on time.
So, what changed? a couple of things…for one, sources say Cuomo was losing the war against teachers. First there was the poll last week showing his approval rating at the lowest it has ever been. Then there was the Siena poll that showed the public isn’t really with him on this one. Finally, there are the teacher’s unions, NYSUT and UFT, who successfully painted Cuomo as the enemy of teachers. From the campaign to demonstrate he has spent no time in schools as Governor, to the billboards on the Thruway telling Cuomo he needs to listen to to teachers, it all adds up to a losing battle for the Governor.
Not for nothing, but if you are going to take on an entrenched group like the teacher’s union in this state, you gotta be ready to really go to war. That includes a TV ad blitz, which was noticeably absent in this particular fight. Cuomo’s buddy Chris Christie successfully turned the public against the NJEA in New Jersey, but he did so after first coming into office in 2010, when his political clout was at its highest. It was also during the great recession when antipathy toward public unions living-large-on-the-public-dime was at an all-time high.
Then there is the ethics reform. Last week, Cuomo successfully pulled Speaker Heastie into the fold on ethics when they announced a two-way agreement which left Senate Republicans on the sidelines. This was immortalized by the hug-heard-round the world. ( This photo appears to have been taken after the two leaders won their field hockey game. They then apparently went back to the mansion and watched “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and shared a good cry. Next week, it’s an all “Fried Green Tomatoes,” and “Steel Magnolias” marathon. Btw – I’m totally kidding about everything I just wrote in parenthesis…Heastie actually HATES “Steel Magnolias.”)
Once the Governor had the Democrats on ethics reform, he was able to squeeze the Republicans a bit. But of course, no one gets everything they want. And to bring the Dems on board for ethics, meant sacrificing something on education. Heastie and his members couldn’t live with what Cuomo wanted in terms of ed reform. Cuomo needed ethics to be his top priority following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver.
Rumor has been that Assembly Dems agreed to ethics reforms for Cuomo and Cuomo agreed to drop the education reforms in return.
Given how Cuomo has broken his word in the past (most recently on the Common Core safety net for APPR), until the budget agreement is completed, I wouldn't bet the mortgage on any of this.
Also, note that teacher evaluation changes still remain in the budget talks:
A formula for teacher evaluations is still being worked out
Hard to know what that will be.
Last night I posted that according to the NT2 blog, Mulgrew was having his own discussions with Cuomo's people.
He may be helping to work out the "formula" for evaluation changes.
If I remember correctly, he was touting the John King-imposed APPR system NYC has as something the whole state should get.
At any rate, there's a lesson here that mobilizing parents and teachers for public protests and running ads aimed at taking the governor down a few pegs can work wonders with the public.
Don't think the charter folks are taking this lying down, btw.
They've gone up with their own pro-Cuomo/pro-ed deform ads to try and change the trajectory of the education story before the budget is completed.
You can bet they'll look to get the cap raised, and if it doesn't come now in the budget, they'll look to get it later.
In any case, as I wrote above, until this is a done deal, I wouldn't put any money on anything anyway.
With NYSUT and the UFT in charge, there's always a good chance they'll steal defeat from the jaws of victory.
But for now, it looks like the governor may have blinked because he needed an ethics deal with the Assembly Dems and they wanted - and got - something in return.