New York’s statewide teachers union has been cashing in political chits as it seeks to block new charter schools from opening in New York City, asking the senators and assemblymembers to film short videos endorsing the union’s opposition.
Appearing with a New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) lobbyist,
nine at least 11 lawmakers from Nassau and Suffolk County, including at least eight Republicans, agreed to speak on film in recent weeks as each accepted what were described as handwritten letters from constituents. All but one were endorsed by NYSUT last year.
The lobbyist, Jim Larson, asked each to oppose Governor Hochul’s proposed adjustment to the limits on the number of charter schools allowed in New York City, where dissatisfaction with city-run schools (and demand for charter schools) has grown in recent years.
The performances were notable for several reasons, the biggest being that the charter school matters under discussion would have no immediate bearing on Long Island.
Lawmakers in a number of cases parroted misleading (if not false) claims about charter schools from opponents such as NYSUT. The union views public charter schools, which admit students by lottery and don’t charge tuition, as an existential threat to its business model because charter teachers typically don’t pay union dues.
“We know charter schools,” said Assemblyman Jarrett Gandolfo, “they lack accountability and they siphon funds away from our public schools.”
If anything, the opposite is true: charter schools are visited each year by state regulators and face more scrutiny than virtually any other public school. Charter schools get shut down by the state if students don’t reach certain performance standards, and they certainly close if parents choose to stop sending their students there. The same can’t be said for any of the district-run schools Gandolfo represents, especially the lower-performing ones. As to charges of “siphoning” public funds, this classic NYSUT complaint presumes schools should continue getting state aid for students who stop attending.
Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio said “there’s transparency in the public schools where there is none in the charter schools” even as charters receive taxpayer funding — an arrangement Giglio called “apprehensible.” (sic)
Charter schools file detailed financial reports with the state Education Department, have independent financial audits performed, and are subject to both state comptroller audits and the state Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) (and risk having parents stop sending their students if they aren’t transparent enough).
The other lawmakers filming videos for NYSUT were:
- Asm. Joseph DeStefano (R)
- Asm. Michael Durso (R)
- Asm. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D)
- Asm. Charles Lavine (D)
- Sen. Mario Mattera (R)
- Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R)
- Asm. Ed Ra (R)
- Asm. Doug Smith (R)
- Asm. Steve Stern (D)
In other states, the willingness of state lawmakers to act as props for a political organization such as NYSUT would be unexplainable. But in New York, home to the highest per-pupil spending and some of the weakest accountability rules, the legislators’ performance is something of an explanation in itself.