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Cuomo's 'war' with teachers unions continues

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Karen Dewitt
/
WRVO News (file photo)

With less than two months before the state budget is due, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and education groups remain at odds, with the state teacher’s union calling the fight a “war,” and Cuomo calling the teachers and their allies a bloated bureaucracy.

 
New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, uses military terms to describe the escalating argument with Cuomo. In a video, NYSUT President Karen Magee says it’s the governor who has declared war on the union and the entire profession of teaching.

“He laid out his dangerous scheme with a budget proposal that  holds hostage much needed education aid,” Magee says in the video.

Magee says Cuomo’s proposals would gut tenure laws and put even more emphasis on standardized testing.

Cuomo, in this budget address, asked for stricter requirements for teacher tenure. He also wants 50 percent of performance ratings to be based on standardized tests,  and would like to add 100 more charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

The union is running a media campaign that includes Facebook and Twitter, and renting out billboards around the state Capitol. The television ad features regular teachers confronting Cuomo’s ideas.

“Governor Cuomo, your priorities are just wrong,” a teacher says to the camera. “You blame teachers, instead of supporting us.”

Similar attack ads in the past were run by the health care workers union against former Govs. George Pataki and Eliot Spitzer. The commercials brought down those governors’ popularity in polls, and reduced their political capital.  

Cuomo, for his part, is not giving in. Even before he was re-elected, he vowed to break what he calls the public school monopoly.  The governor says he’s not against teachers, though, only the bureaucracy that’s grown up around the teacher’s union, school boards and administrators.

The governor says he will only agree to a significant school aid increase if the Senate and Assembly agree to all of his changes.

“I said, ‘if you’re willing to take on the unions, and you’re willing to make changes and reforms, I’ll support a 5 percent increase,’” said Cuomo, who said he has doubts that lawmakers would agree to his ideas  without the financial incentive.

“In my opinion the legislature is all about growing the bureaucracy rather than helping the students,” Cuomo said.

That’s led school districts around the state to complain that they won’t know how much state aid they’re getting for the new school year in time to get their budgets ready for the May statewide vote. Cuomo’s advice, is, budget for the lower, legally required increase of 1.7 percent and hope that a deal is struck that will generate $1 billion additional dollars for schools.

“If it turns out that the legislature actually votes for more, great,” the governor said.

Schools are in a bind because they oppose many of the governor’s proposals that Cuomo says would bring them more financial aid from the state.

The teachers and other education groups have allies among the Assembly Democrats. Newly-elected Assembly speaker Carl Heastie says he expects education to be the most challenging part of the budget.  

“That’s probably going to one of the tougher areas,” Heastie said.

Republicans who lead the state Senate are praising one  of the governor’s other education proposals. They support a tax credit for donors to charter schools and private schools. But Cuomo has tied that idea to the Dream Act, which would provide college aid for children of immigrants.  But the GOP Senators say they aren’t in favor of the Dream Act.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.