policy matters

The education governor's race: A Paladino and Cuomo primer

You may have noticed that we have a governor’s race going on in New York. But amid the love children, viral cell-phone videos, and upsetting e-mail forwards, policy issues are getting even more overshadowed than usual — including where the two candidates stand on education.

To remedy this, I’ve compiled a brief primer outlining the education stances of the Democrat, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, and the Republican, Tea Party-ite Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, is in the Obama Democrat camp on education.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, the state's attorney general, sides with Obama and Bloomberg on education. (Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/4015439957/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Flickr## user ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/saeba/##saebaryo##)

Andrew Cuomo

HIS CAMP: Cuomo is framing himself as the great hope that Democrats for Education Reform activists once dreamed David Paterson would be — a “Barack Obama Democrat” on education, as one source put it to me. (Or, you might say, an “ideolocrat.”)

Cuomo kept himself out of the Race to the Top legislative battle (at least publicly). But his published platform mirrors DFER’s insistence on raising the cap on charter schools, and it quotes charter supporters’ warning that a union-backed push for more public consultation before opening a charter school would have amounted to a “poison pill.”

WHAT HE MIGHT DO: Cuomo’s decision to affiliate with DFER, Mayor Bloomberg, and the entrepreneurial camp on schools gives him a potentially long education wish list. That’s because almost all of the changes favored by these reformers are legislative; teacher tenure, “last in, first out” firing patterns, teacher pensions, and charter school growth are all matters of state law.

While other state Democrats (namely Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) have allied themselves with the teachers union, Cuomo could act as a counter-force pushing for more changes to the state’s education law. It’s worth noting that nearly all of the education agenda Bloomberg laid out this week on NBC would require changes to state law.

WHY HE MIGHT NOT DO IT: Cuomo’s probably in for a fight with Silver and other Albany lawmakers, but will education be at the top of his list? The tough budget climate might give him even less leverage to pursue his agenda. A case in point is Eliot Spitzer, who balanced his endorsement of a charter cap lift with ending the long-running stalemate over the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. But the millions Spitzer promised have substantially tapered in the ugly budget climate, making “sweetener” deals hard to imagine.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman, favors charter schools, vouchers, and firing the Board of Regents.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman, favors charter schools, vouchers, and firing the Board of Regents. (Photo via ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/azipaybarah/4901884630/sizes/m/in/photostream/##WNYC's Azi Paybarah##)

Carl Paladino

HIS CAMP: Paladino’s campaign didn’t return my phone calls requesting information about his position on education, so I had to rely on his public statements (especially this Daily News interview) and a brief (and occasionally alarming) rundown of his education positions on his web site.

The statements suggest he would take Cuomo’s entrepreneurial endorsements (pro-charter schools, pro-Race to the Top) and raise them a long mile by endorsing vouchers, attempting to fire the entire state Board of Regents, repealing the 3020-A law that governs how teachers are fired, and overhauling education funding streams. He has promised to cut the state government by 20%, but this week he told the Daily News flatly, “I will not cut education funding.”

WHAT HE MIGHT DO: Paladino’s education statement also suggests creating “residential charter schools” that would begin in kindergarten. Paladino’s vision:

To ensure that no child is left behind, Carl will create residential charters in the worst urban school district where children reside starting at kindergarten. These charters will tackle problems created by dysfunctional homes such as ensuring proper dress codes, food is supplied and overall conditions provide a learning atmosphere.

The candidate also has specific plans for the members of the Board of Regents, who the statement says will have to “submit to the Governor signed and undated letters of resignation as of January 1, 2011.” The statement goes on, “As Governor, Carl will accept the resignation of those who think protecting union leaders is more important than not leaving any children behind.”

Paladino’s plans for the remaining Regents members, who govern the state’s education system, include this “demand”:

Carl will demand that the Regents Board remove the School Board and Superintendents of all school systems presently achieving a less than 60 percent graduation rate or having more than 25 percent of its schools in any form of academic distress and replace them with a competent “Special Master” with full authority to implement the changes necessary to effectively and quickly address the dysfunction.

WHY HE MIGHT NOT DO IT: Education officials and state leaders have sometimes quietly imagined a kind of state version of mayoral control that would dismantle the State Board of Regents, which oversees the state education system. But such an overhaul would be an uphill battle given that the Regents are appointed not by the governor, but by the state legislature.

Demanding resignations letters from Merryl Tisch and her fellow Regents would be a bully-pulpit move, but not a real request, and Paladino certainly would not have the authority to dictate how Tisch deals with local superintendents — nor could Tisch unilaterally fire local school boards and superintendents.

By a “residential charter school,” Paladino may have in mind something like the SEED School in D.C., a boarding charter school that is featured in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman.'” But SEED begins in middle school, not kindergarten.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.