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Charter School Showdown
Cuomo 1, De Blasio 0

The first round of Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s fight over the city’s charter schools has ended with a decisive victory for Cuomo. De Blasio made hay during the campaign with his pledge to end the city’s practice of allowing charter schools rent-free access to public school facilities. But the new budget deal that passed yesterday in Albany takes the matter out of his hands, requiring all cities to provide space, free of charge, to charter schools if it is available. If not, the cities will be required to pay up to $40 million in rent to install them at alternative accommodations. Even more pointedly, it explicitly authorizes the three Success Academy schools that de Blasio rejected earlier this month.

As the New York Times notes, the new law may make it difficult for de Blasio to pursue his own education priorities:

Charter schools, which serve about 6 percent of students citywide, are poised to expand significantly in New York over the next several years, potentially attracting as much as 10 percent of students by 2017, according to education advocates. And it is up to the state — not the city — to approve any new charter schools, leaving Mr. de Blasio virtually powerless to stop their growth.

With classroom seats in short supply across the city, Mr. de Blasio may find it difficult to accommodate charter schools and find space for some of his own programs.

De Blasio and Cuomo are still on good terms in public, and the Mayor has taken pains to say that these new developments will not derail his plans. But this is a major blow to his education agenda. Less than six months after winning on an anti-charter platform, de Blasio’s New York City will be even more hospitable to charter schools than it was under Bloomberg.

For a different approach to school reform battles, look south to Washington, DC, where embattled mayor Vincent Gray is facing a tough primary today. When he was first elected in 2010, Gray ran on a similar platform to hit the brakes on then-Mayor Adrian Fenty’s ambitious education reforms, which included the implementation of a strict teacher evaluation system opposed by the unions. Like de Blasio with charter schools, Gray rode this platform to victory in the election. But as TPM argues, Gray’s victory has actually made these reforms less politically toxic:

And yet, things didn’t change much under Gray’s administration. While federal investigations have recently turned up evidence of hundreds of thousands of shadowy campaign dollars sloshing around in support of Gray’s victory in 2010, he’s been a reasonably effective steward of the District’s schools. His chancellor, Kaya Henderson, was a former Rhee deputy. No surprise, then, that charter schools have continued to grow — and have been granted increased access to unused district school buildings. The teacher evaluation system has faced just small adjustments. And test scores continue to climb. […]

It suggests that Fenty’s loss might actually have been a reasonably lucky outcome for the policies he was advancing. As it turned out, Gray’s opposition to reform was purely rhetorical. He wanted Fenty’s job, but he wasn’t committed to returning the city to its 2006 educational status quo. All in all, Gray’s tenure lowered the political temperature and consolidated Fenty’s gains. The last four years are evidence that the onetime “reforms” have become the baseline. Here, the argument isn’t whether we’ll have a consequential teacher evaluation system, but how we’ll weight the one we have. And this has been great for DC students, families, and teachers.

The same thing may slowly be happening in New York, whether de Blasio wants it or not.

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  • Nick Bidler

    Nice to know my granndkids will have competent teachers instead of the rubber stamps I have now.

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