Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New York Governor Cuomo Fails to Fight for K-12 Public School Children by Bernard Gassaway

New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to keep his pledge to be the chief lobbyist for public school children. Cuomo said in his 2012 State of the State Address, “This year, I will take a second job — consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy.” What happened?

What made Cuomo change his course? He has apparently chosen to abandon the fight for public education, and thus the children. I, like others, believe he has chosen to focus on a presidential run in 2020 instead. This is sad.

At one point in 2015, Cuomo seemed eager and ready to take on his most formidable foe, the teachers’ unions. He pledged to fight for effective teacher evaluations, turn failing schools around, expand charter schools, and quicken the removal of ineffective teachers. What happened?

The teachers’ unions unleashed a barrage of strategic media attacks. They apparently hit their mark. Cuomo quickly retreated and waved a white flag. Since then, he has been relatively silent on public education reform.

Instead of tackling challenges related to K-12 challenges, Cuomo announced his college tuition initiative. If his goal was to distract folks from his K-12 debacle, it worked. Ironically, the college tuition initiative is likely to fail if K-12 is not fixed.

However, when it comes to his inability to improve public education, Cuomo does have a trump card: he can blame the New York State Legislature and the New York State Board of Regents. While the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives the states authority to run public education, the New York State Constitution specifically gives authority to the legislature to run education. The legislature appoints members to the board of regents (education policymakers), who in turn hire the New York State commissioner of education.

Interestingly, Cuomo appears to be comfortable with not being in control of education. Perhaps he has concluded that the problem with public education is irresolvable. Furthermore, a battle with the teachers’ unions might jeopardize his 2020 presidential aspiration.

As a teacher of teachers and a chief child advocate, I am disappointed in Cuomo’s lack of fight when it comes to public education. It takes a lot of courage to fight for children, particularly since they do not vote.

Cuomo has the gift of rhetoric. Unfortunately for children, he does not have the gift of delivering on his pledge to fight for them.

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