June 22, 2012
All eyes might have been on the teacher evaluation shield bill this week, but that wasn’t the only education issue lawmakers tackled this spring. A host of other education bills traveled through both houses of the legislature in recent months, with varying success. Here’s a brief rundown of those bills and how they fared:
Senate, Assembly pave way for universal kindergarten in New York City
In New York City, more than 3,000 children — or 4 percent — of all five-year-olds are not enrolled in kindergarten. Expanding that service has become a pet issue for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other council members, but it first required a change to state law that would allow the city to revise age regulations. Currently, the city requires only that six-year-olds attend school.
The bill passed easily through the Assembly earlier this month, 141-1, and passed in the Senate Thursday just after 9 p.m. The passage doesn’t automatically enact universal kindergarten, however. To do that, city officials will have to agree to new age regulations. Mayor Bloomberg initially raised questions about the expansion’s cost — he estimated the additional enrollment could run $30 million a year — but the city Department of Education has since come out in support of the legislation.
The bill still needs a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in order to become a law. “We are reviewing the legislation,” said a Cuomo spokesman.
“This bill will be life changing for the nearly 3,000 New York City kids that enter the first grade having never set foot in a classroom each year — kids who often need kindergarten the most,” Quinn wrote in a joint statement with Council members Robert Jackson and Stephen Levin.
Union opposition helps block bill to change way charter schools serve special needs students
A persistent criticism of teachers unions about charter schools is that they don’t serve the same proportion of special-needs students as their district counterparts. But when charter school supporters worked with lawmakers to create legislation that would help charter schools do just that, it was the state teachers union, NYSUT, that helped to block the effort.
The bill passed easily in the Senate on Tuesday, 46-13, but it was never voted on in the union-friendly Assembly, in part because NYSUT lobbied against it just days earlier. The union’s position infuriated charter school advocates, who said the opposition was hypocritical and misleading.
“It’s disgraceful the Assembly will go home for the summer without passing a no-brainer of a bill that would have greatly increased the ability of public charter schools to serve children with special needs,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter Center, a charter school advocacy and support group. “While charter schools have gone to great lengths to make sure they can educate students of all needs and backgrounds, the state teachers union, which opposed this bill, once again showed their number one priority is maintaining power rather than helping children.”
Bill to weaken mayoral control fails to find a Senate sponsor
When a historic school in his district faced closure earlier this year, Assemblyman Keith Wright threatened to roll back some of Mayor Bloomberg’s control of the school system with legislation that would give local parent councils the final say on all co-location plans. The city eventually removed the school from its list of closures, but Wright moved forward with his legislation anyway.
The bill never made it far, however. It passed in the Assembly yesterday, 111-21, but was never introduced in the Senate, leading one critic to question whether Wright was ever serious about passing it in the first place.
“If Wright wanted the bill passed, he should have informed parents they need to come to Albany and lobby legislators, especially the Senate Republicans who control the Senate,” Mona Davids, a parent organizer, wrote in an email. ”There were no attempts to engage the Senate Republicans because EVERYONE knew Wright’s bill was a one-house bill.”
Bill to preserve federally funded tutoring services in New York loses traction
As part of the state’s No Child Left Behind waiver, the State Education Department won permission to give federal funds that had gone to tutoring companies to educational organizations that officials would be able to vet. With its future in question, the tutoring industry aggressively lobbied lawmakers to introduce legislation that would revoke the change. Legislation was introduced in both houses — and advanced in the Senate — but ultimately was not voted on.
The bill could be resurrected next session, a sponsor told GothamSchools earlier this week.
“If it doesn’t get passed, I’m glad that the students will be eligible for another year, so there’s still time for us to remedy the problem,” said Assemblyman Karim Camara.