Andrew Cuomo Risks Teachers' Union Wrath By Supporting Raising Number of Charter Schools

The Post's Fred Dicker reports this morning that Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is planning to support the recently passed Senate Bill to increase the number of charter schools in the state.

If true, this would be just the latest unlikely development in how the issue of charter schools is realigning old alliances in state politics.

Never mind that the presumptive Democratic nominee for Governor could buck an issue so important with the UFT. It was pretty shocking that the Senate would pass a bill in the first place increasing the number of charters from 200 to 460, with substantial support from Democrats.

But that's just what happened, and though UFT President dubbed it a "one-house charter bill" with "no chance of becoming law," the odds of passage in the Assembly increased last week.

Bronx Assemblyman Peter Rivera, once a vocal opponent of charter schools, has gotten behind the bill. Rivera is the head of the 11 member Hispanic Task Force in the Assembly, and he could help sway other opponents. He says he supports the increase bill because it "also requires charter schools to enroll a comparable number of English-language learners
and special-education students as traditional public schools do." But his switch in support is important all the same, as is the implication that ELL and special ed families want their kids in these schools.

With the possibility of passage in the Assembly, Governor Paterson long being open to signing such a bill, and Cuomo possibly campaigning in support, it's hard to see how the measure has "no chance" of being enacted. Far from being dead on arrival in the Assembly, the bill might be just as alive as Frankenstein.

It's not jus the Democrats who are defying old UFT positions these days -- it's the UFT itself. The teachers' union has long been opposed to tying student performance to teacher evaluations, and has repeatedly called such efforts "misguided." But even they are now supporting a bill that does just that (with some caveats).

Democrats opposing the UFT? The UFT embracing some kind of student performance based pay? Seeing such old alliances crumble shows just how much influence Arne Duncan is having on New York State politics.

Duncan, as Secretary of Education, has wanted to influence education nationally by dangling "Race to the Top" funds in front of states. To get these, states have to prove that they're open to reform. And, given that Duncan was chosen from a short list that reportedly included our own Joel Klein, it shouldn't be surprising that his idea of reform has a lot to do with charter schools and a focus on student performance.

With our state being broke, the $700 million New York could possibly receive from the Feds has everyone scrambling not just to get it, but to prove they're not the ones who lost it. As the next Race to the Top deadline gets closer, we're probably going to see more pols trying to find conditional ways to support charters.

As far as merit pay goes, the UFT may have ceded some ground there, but they certainly won't give up on slowing down the charter school movement altogether. But with Arnie Duncan and Joel Klein a charter increase, and with the possibility of both Andrew Cuomo and Rick Lazio campaigning for their expansion, the UFT is certainly losing the momentum.



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