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Debate Intensifies At Capitol With Just One Week Left In The Session

New York State Capitol
Karen DeWitt

Legislative leaders are dug in on remaining issues in the 2017 session, and are accusing each other of unfairly linking unrelated items to renewal of mayoral control over New York City schools. As time is running out for scheduled meetings.

One of the few items that faces a hard deadline is the renewal of mayoral control of the New York City schools. It expires at the end of the month.

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan, who along with his GOP members has released three different bills, says he supports the concept and believes something can get done in the next few days before the session is scheduled to end.

“We believe in mayoral control,” said Flanagan. “Between now and June 21st we will do the people’s business.”

All of the Senate’s bills on mayoral control include provisions to strengthen charter schools, which Flanagan says are an integral part of the public school systems.

“Let’s be clear, by law, charter schools are public schools,” Flanagan said.

During debate on the Senate floor, Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, says linking the two items are a “diversion”, and that lawmakers should be cautious that they don’t “siphon off resources.”

“In some cases they are a shoehorn to the privatization of our education system,” Hoylman said.

Senator Hoylman attempted to link the Republican Senators’ proposals to the actions of President Trump’s Administration and his education secretary Betsy DeVos who favors school vouchers.

“Where we are giving up on our public education in favor of privatization,” Hoylman said.

Senator Flanagan, who was formerly the chamber’s Education Committee Chair, defended the bill on the floor. He denied it has anything to do with Republicans in Washington.

“Honestly, I don’t know what the heck you are talking about,” said Flanagan, “I’m not guided by what’s happening Washington. I’m guided by but by what’s happening here.”

Democrats are in the minority in the Senate, but they control the state Assembly. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also opposes linking the extension of mayoral control to sweeteners for charter schools, and has already called the Senate bills a “non-starter.”

“We’re not doing them,” Speaker Heastie said.

The Assembly bill to renew mayoral control is also linked to a seemingly unrelated item- a provision to allow counties in upstate and on Long Island to keep charging sales tax.

Senator Flanagan, says Assembly Democrats are being hypocritical, though. He says they are against linking mayoral control to charter school issues, but at the same time have tied the measures to the state sales tax. He says at least the Senate bills all related to education matters.

“They have decided to take a different tack, and hold hostage a number of our colleagues for revenue in their local communities,” said Flanagan.

Assembly Speaker Heastie has explained that he believes the two measures are related, because they all deal with requests from localities including the City of New York and county governments across the state, and so should be linked.

“I look at it as respecting every single county’s wish,” Heastie said.

But the Speaker says he is discussing mayoral control, and the sales tax renewals with the Senate and governor Cuomo. Senator Flanagan concurs that talks are going on behind the scenes as the countdown to the end of the session continues. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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