Kids as pawns: The Legislature looks set to chip away at mayoral control of the schools

·2 min read

Since 2002, New York State has properly given New York City’s top official accountability over the public schools. The arrangement, shorthanded “mayoral control,” best ensures that the people of our city — and not an unelected, unaccountable, bureaucratic blob — have some meaningful measure of leverage over this largest-in-the-nation school system.

No one can with a straight face dispute that over the last two decades, this has yielded dividends for kids: rising graduation rates, rising proficiency in core subjects, better coordination between the Department of Education and other city agencies. Yet the Legislature now considers weakening the authority in pernicious ways. That these so-called progressives are doing so just as a Black mayor and Black schools chancellor, both educated in this very system, focus their reform agenda on better serving disadvantaged kids is especially galling.

Draft plans kicking around the Assembly would extend the mayor’s authority — which should be made permanent, not extended begrudgingly in short spurts — for just another three years, an insult given that it was good enough for three terms under Mike Bloomberg and two under Bill de Blasio. Much more perniciously, they would weaken the mayor’s share of appointees on the Panel for Educational Policy, now nine of 15 members, down to just 10 of 18, while setting fixed, staggered terms for those members. That means it would take just one turncoat to deadlock the panel and override the will of someone elected by voters across the city. That’s called rule by faction.

Other legislators are trying to slap unrelated conditions on mayoral control, like a lower cap on class sizes, a transparent giveaway to the teachers union.

New York City has mayoral control of policing, parks, streets, homeless policy and just about every other vital government function. Voters choose the person with the plans closest to those they support — and then reelect them or vote them out based on results. Only in schools do legislators keep trying to tangle lines of authority and accountability. They’re toying with our children’s future.