Late in April, the state Assembly introduced and quickly passed a bill that would restore local control and collective bargaining in teacher evaluations and fix the state’s flawed, test-driven APPR law.
About the same time, the Senate introduced S.8301, identical to the Assembly’s bill.
Soon, 87 percent of senators — on both sides of the aisle — signed on to “co-sponsor” the bill, and it looked like it would sail through. The governor waited with pen in hand.
At 1:48 a.m. today, weeks after S.8301 was introduced, the 2018 legislative session fizzled to a close; Senate GOP conference leader John Flanagan never allowed his members to vote on it. Earlier in the day, he asked them to vote on — and they passed, 35 to 25 — a different APPR bill that was encumbered by hundreds of millions in gifts to charter school operators, whose backers donate to the GOP leadership. Everyone knew it was a deal breaker — Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called it a “cyanide” pill — but dozens of the senators who professed to support S.8301 broke their promise and voted with Flanagan’s tainted, dead-on-arrival substitute. The bill also included provisions to reduce curriculum oversight for private, religious Yeshiva schools.
“Faced with a slam-dunk opportunity to roll back the test-and-punish era by passing legislation sponsored by 55 of the 63 senators, Sen. Flanagan, his caucus and five Democrats chose to betray the state's teachers,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta.
“For what? To steer more than $375 million from public schools in the suburbs and upstate to charter schools in New York City.
“Make no mistake,” Pallotta said, “New York teachers, parents and public school students will remember which senators voted against their public schools when we head to the polls this September and again in November.”
NYSUT had mounted an aggressive grassroots and lobbying effort over several weeks to get S.8301 passed with “no strings attached.” The union launched online advocacy blasts, a major press event that drew senators from both sides of the aisle and protests at the district offices of senators all over the state. The union also held high-visibility actions at the Capitol, including balloons delivered to GOP lawmakers, musical groups marching and playing as time ran out, and a free ice cream event on the last day of session.
Some asked why the Flanagan bill was unacceptable. Could the union make a deal accepting charter language or watered down oversight of Yeshivas?
Pallotta explained: “We firmly believe that there should be a moratorium on the authorization of any new charter schools until the state enacts critically needed reforms to make charter management operators more transparent and accountable to taxpayers and the public.”
And, “NYSUT strongly objects to taking the oversight of SED out of the secular curriculum that Yeshivas, or any religious school for that matter, provide,” he added.
Now this issue becomes a major focus of the political campaigns that will burn through the summer, through primaries in September and up until the general election in November.
Most recently in the campaign to defeat the constitutional convention referendum last fall, the statewide union has been impressively effective at the ballot box.
“We will remember,” Pallotta said.