A pair of Senate Republicans are arguing, on procedural grounds, against Governor Hochul’s plan to allow more charter schools. There’s just one problem: they didn’t appear to have the same concerns when Hochul and other governors proposed things they liked. And it’s not the first contradiction they’ve served up in service to the sworn enemy of charter schools, the teachers’ unions.
Senators Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady County) and Dan Stec (R-Warren County), who both won re-election with backing from the statewide teachers’ union, posted similarly crafted tweets hours apart which reacted to Hochul’s February 1 budget proposal. The senators’ tweets praise Hochul’s plan to increase school aid but oppose her plan to change the state’s cap on the number of public charter schools in New York City, seemingly on procedural grounds.
As a former teacher & ranker on Senate Education Committee, I strongly support full foundation aid & increased state aid for our schools but opening up charter school cap should not be squeezed into state budget. As I always advocate, there should be full transparency & debate!
— Senator Jim Tedisco (@JamesTedisco) February 4, 2023
The gov’s budget proposal is out. As a member of the Senate Ed Cmt I’m pleased to see increase aid proposed for our local schools. But budgets should not be a place to cram in controversial policy. Opening the charter school cap does not belong in the budget.
— Senator Dan Stec (@SenatorDanStec) February 4, 2023
Hochul’s proposal was placed in what’s known as an Article VII bill, which includes the changes in law necessary to implement the spending that’s appropriated in the annual state budget. The practice of including unrelated policy measures, such as minimum-wage increases or rent control, became commonplace during the last decade under Governor Andrew Cuomo. The appropriateness of this strategy has been a subject of debate.
By quibbling about the way Hochul is proposing these changes, both Tedisco and Stec seemed to have found a tortured way to oppose new charter schools on procedural grounds without having to defend their opposition on the merits.
There was just one problem: both senators have repeatedly supported the inclusion of unrelated budget policies — when they agreed with them. In fact, in Stec’s case, he had just days earlier applauded Hochul for including changes to gun-control rules affecting the Adirondack Park in the same budget proposal where he urged her not to “cram in controversial policy.” Last spring, he called on Hochul to change bail rules in the state budget. The year before, Stec wanted provisions related to broadband included. None of these changes appear to have had measurable impacts on state spending that would justify working them into a budget.
Tedisco has at least paid lip-service to the need for thorough vetting and debate of policy matters. During 2017 and 2018, when Republicans controlled the chamber, he voted for multiple budget proposals and deals that shoehorned unrelated matters. And in the years before and since, nothing has stopped him from periodically applauding the inclusion of agreeable non-budgetary items, such as background-check requirements on adult-care facilities in 2014 and the property tax cap in 2019.
Tedisco and Stec appear to have been participating in an organized effort by the New York State United Teachers, the statewide teachers’ union, to make similar statements about the budget, praising the massive increase in state aid while condemning Hochul’s charter-cap changes (some of which featured sensational claims about charter schools having “devastating effects” or that having more would “hurt” other schools).
NYSUT last year asked candidates to back a package of anti-charter measures designed to shrink if not eliminate public charter schools — which Stec and Tedisco have likely agreed to support in privately submitted questionnaires required to receive the union’s political endorsement.
This isn’t the first time the pair have twisted themselves in pretzels at NYSUT’s behest.
Both campaigned for office with complaints about the state’s tax burden. Yet both have defended New York’s K-12 costs, the country’s highest on a per-pupil basis, which produce education outcomes that are at best middling. New York spent 36 percent more, per student, than Massachusetts in school year 2019-20. More than a quarter of the state budget now goes toward school aid, and K-12 costs are the single largest driver behind local property taxes.
Tedisco in 2019 went so far as to jab legislative Democrats for not hiking state school aid even further.
Both are emblematic of the ongoing struggle by New York Republicans to speak credibly about controlling government spending and meaningfully reducing the state and local tax burden, or to offer a credible vision for how New York can get a better return on its outsized K-12 spending.
While both senators have bellyached publicly about the need to reform or end “unfunded mandates” from Albany, their acceptance of the NYSUT endorsement almost certainly means they have privately pledged that they won’t support changes to the biggest such mandates, which pertain to collective bargaining and pensions.
It’s difficult for lawmakers to claim they’re trying to bring taxes down or education quality up when they’re seeking approval from a political organization working toward very different goals.