ALBANY—State Assembly Democrats have effectively backed down from a fight over mayoral control of New York City schools.
It was generally expected heading into the final phase of the 2015 legislative session that much of the late-session political deal-making would involve renewing the state law that empowers Mayor Bill de Blasio to lead the nation’s largest public school district. The law, like the session, sunsets in June.
But the Assembly majority has decided to prioritize strengthening rent regulations, opting to take the path of least resistance on mayoral control. The Assembly on Monday passed a law extending the power for three years—not the seven years originally proposed, let alone the permanent extension de Blasio has sought.
Members also hoped to prevent an attempt by Governor Andrew Cuomo to link the extension of mayoral control to his end-of-session agenda, which includes lifting a cap on charter schools and establishing a tax credit for donations to private schools.
More on why the three year extension is a move to de-link mayoral control from the charter cap or Cuomo's voucher program:
In interviews, de Blasio administration officials and Albany lawmakers agreed that a three-year extension was the easiest way to maintain the current system of mayoral control without significant changes, a win for de Blasio.
And by not picking a battle with Cuomo over mayoral control, the Assembly and de Blasio may have more leverage on issues like the tax credit, and, of particular interest to de Blasio, the charter cap. De Blasio has repeatedly said he does not believe the cap on charters should be lifted, even as influential charter groups have intensified their calls for a lifting of the charter cap.
Charter advocates and education observers have said they believed the cap and mayoral control would be linked at the end of the session as a way to create pressure on both sides to pass versions of each proposal; that configuration seems unlikely if the extension passes.
The question is, do the Senate and Cuomo go for the de-linked extension?
There are 15 days to go in the session, Cuomo's taking time off after Sandra Lee's cancer surgery, and there are a lot of unresolved issues left to deal with, including rent regulations and the 421-a tax giveaway to the real estate industry.
On top of that, rumors continue to swirl that Governor Cuomo is a target of US Attorney Preet Bharara and he is enjoying his lowest approval numbers of his tenure as governor.
If ever there was a time when the heavy hearts in the Assembly could hold fast on a number of issues, from the charter cap to the Cuomo voucher plan, it is now.
But will they?