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Who Really Won the 2015 Legislative Battle in New York?


The short answer: Nobody

The last day of New York’s legislative session was supposed to be June 17, but the final touches took a while to materialize. One of the biggest questions coming out of this session is who benefited the most from the school choice narrative. In the end, it seems the whole process was a stalemate.

When the session opened in early January, education reform was one of the most important parts of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislative agenda. That quickly fell by the wayside as he came head-to-head with teacher unions, who predictably accused him of having “declared war on the public schools.”

He strategically dropped some parts of his agenda in favor of others, such as ditching aggressive charter cap increases for more focus on an education tax credit. By the time the dust settled, he didn’t get anything in ed reform approaching his initial vision.

Score – Cuomo: 0, Unions: ?, School Choice: ?


Meanwhile, the unions were fighting tooth and nail to stop any headway for school choice in New York, a state with the 7th best charter law in the country and the 9th strongest union presence.

Such a climate is bound to fuel weird conflicts of interests. For example, while 66% of New Yorkers like Gov. Cuomo’s private education tax credit plan and 53% want to expand charters, 54% of New Yorkers trust teacher unions more than the governor.

The confusing overlap here is partially due to the unions’ inconsistent operations on the ground, such as when the United Federation of Teachers (NY’s union) opened a charter school in 2005, and when the unions overwhelmingly supported parental “opt-out” of state assessments.

The results of both these strategies were laughable. The charter school run by the teacher unions closed down this year due to poor performance, and the union rhetoric supporting parental choice to opt-out of testing didn’t go as far as opting out of failing District schools. Nope. Sorry, New York parents. You don’t have to take any tests, but you do have to attend public schools with union contracts.

Meanwhile, the changes to the charter cap law that unions were trying to kill still went through. They’ll tell you that the addition of 50 schools to the cap was just a redefinition of charter spots already in existence, but that reconfiguration was still a win for charter proponents.

Moreover, it took place in one of the most hotly contested charter markets in the country: de Blasio’s NYC. At best, all unions can say is they won a minor defensive battle in the busiest legislative session since 2008.

Score – Cuomo: 0, Unions: 0, School Choice: ?


School choicers had the most to gain in the session, but none of the governor’s agenda played out as expected. The charter cap was the main legislative priority, and the charter lobby didn’t win anything extraordinary. Cuomo’s education tax credit got bogged down, though non-public schools are getting a significant funding boost.

Charter leaders did enjoy a few small victories, including more flexibility on special education and teacher qualifications, and a permissive enrollment preference for charter school staff (a norm in basically any state charter law). These are big wins at the school level, but relatively insignificant in terms of the movement as a whole.

Score – Cuomo: 0, Unions: 0, School Choice: 0




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