Mayor de Blasio Testifies in Albany, Seeking to Extend Mayoral Control of City Schools
Earlier today, Mayor de Blasio testified in Albany before members of the Legislature in favor of extending mayoral control of city schools. As you may know, last year, despite support from Governor Cuomo and the Assembly in favor of a multi-year extension of mayoral control, the Mayor's control of City schools was extended by just one year, a far shorter extension than had been granted to his predecessor. Under current law, mayoral control expires in June.
Mayor de Blasio and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina testify in Albany in favor of a seven-year extension of mayoral control of city schools on Wednesday, May 4 2016.
According to the Mayor, great strides have been made since mayoral control was enacted in 2001. At that time, de Blasio testified, the graduation rate was 50.8 % and increased to 66% by the end of Mayor Bloomberg's administration. Under the de Blasio administration, the graduation rate has reached 70.5% with a goal of 80% over the next 10 years. Mayoral control makes these and other big, bold improvements possible, Mayor de Blasio testified.
In earlier years, New York City schools saw a dropout rate of 22% which has since fallen to 9%, the Mayor said, and attendance rates are now 92.2%, the highest in 10 years. Under mayoral control, it was possible to expand universal pre-Kindergarten from 20,000 students to nearly 70,000 in the span of five months; to offer extra academic support at 130 "community schools;" and to improve academic performance at 94 "renewal schools" spread across the five boroughs.
Teachers and Parents Working Together for Better Outcomes, Mayor Testifies
Under mayoral control, the City has been able to bring about transformative changes such as teachers voting to suspend union rules and do things in a different way that is more beneficial for students, the Mayor testified. This could not happen, and in such a brief period of time, without mayoral control, Mayor de Blasio testified.
During his administration, new elements have been added to the existing model of mayoral control in order to maximize parental involvement and engagement in their children's education, the Mayor testified. There are now four scheduled parent-teacher conferences each year, up from two annually in previous years, and the rate of parental engagement has increased 38% in the last year alone. In some schools, 100% of parents attend parent-teacher conferences, he said.
Mayoral Control Ushering Underperforming Teachers out of City Schools
According to Mayor de Blasio, during the period beginning January 1, 2014 and ending in late March of 2016, City government administrators help guide over 1,000 unsuitable teachers out of the system while supporting effective teachers, Mayor de Blasio said.
Closing his remarks, which lasted for about one hour, Mayor de Blasio requested a seven-year extension of mayoral control, which he called consistent with Albany's original authorization of the mayoral control system. Turning to the subject of accountability, the Mayor said that if voters do not approve of his performance, they have the option of replacing him on Election Day and effectively hiring someone else to replace him and to run the City's public schools.
State Budget Prioritizes Homelessness Prevention
Yesterday, May 3, the Legislature returned to Albany to resume our 2016 Legislative Session following our annual post-budget break, during which legislators return to their districts to talk about the budget, priorities for our remaining Session days, and the needs and concerns of their constituents. It is clear that addressing homelessness in New York City must remain a priority.
A Down Payment on $20 Billion Housing Program
During the process of negotiating the budget both houses of the Legislature agreed to adopt Governor Cuomo's plans for a five-year, $20 billion statewide program of constructing and preserving affordable housing, reaching consensus on the fine details of that plan was not possible in the time we had. To this end, discussion is ongoing between Albany and New York City on precisely how the New York City portion of these funds should best be spent, and details of the plan should be forthcoming in the near future.
In the meantime, I am happy to announce that State funding for my Neighborhood Preservation Companies affordable housing program has been increased to $13.4 million in the budget for Fiscal Year 2016-2017. For those who may be unfamiliar with this important program, decades ago I introduced legislation in Albany establishing the system of cooperatively owned apartment buildings in New York City, which was copied nationwide.
2016-2017 Budget Includes New Funding and Programs to Ease Homelessness
As the cost of living in Manhattan and New York City as a whole has continued to skyrocket, we have seen a disturbing increase in homelessness. While it is tragic enough when any person becomes homeless, such as in the many cases when a member of the armed services returns to an uncertain future in civilian life with little support or a person suffering mental illness without adequate treatment, in many cases we are seeing entire families lose their housing and end up either on the streets, in shelters, or in other insecure housing situations. I think we can all agree that something must be done about this problem, and it must be done now.
Prevention May Be Key to Reducing the Problem of Homelessness
It is my belief that the key to reducing homelessness in New York City is stopping evictions from happening before individuals and families are evicted from their homes. Along with my Assembly colleague Keith Wright, who chairs our Housing Committee, the Assembly Majority Conference fought to get new money and programs into the budget for State Fiscal Year 2016-2017 to address these needs.
Budget Creates and Funds Programs to Reduce Homelessness
Along with Governor Cuomo and our colleagues in the Assembly Majority Conference, we got funding into the budget for programs like Solutions to End Homelessness, which offers special resources to those who are at risk of losing housing. Funding was also appropriated to strengthen supportive housing programs which get individuals and families off the streets and out of shelters at a lower cost than most shelter placements.
Gov. Cuomo Pledges 6,000 New Units of Affordable Housing
Governor Cuomo has also proposed the construction of at least 6,000 units of affordable housing over the coming five years, and the Assembly's Majority Conference strongly supports new affordable housing. In Albany, I will fight to ensure that our communities receive their fair share of that important new commitment.
Because of the complexity of the ongoing problem of homelessness, and the constantly shifting needs of those who are on the front lines and addressing this problem day-to-day, details of these programs and how they will be implemented are being worked out between the Governor's office and the Legislature.
Many of the problems at hand are problems we have dealt with before, so strategies to deal with these problems exist, but we are taking a careful and measured approach to addressing the problem of homelessness to be sure we are spending public funds wisely and responsibly in a way that will have a positive impact on the problem.
I will continue to report to you as details of these important programs become final.
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.
Assembly Passes $154.9 Billion Budget for 2016
Record Funding for Education, $15 Wage, Paid Family Leave
On March 31 and April 1, in my capacity as Chair of the Assembly's Ways and Means Committee I debated and helped pass a budget for State Fiscal year 2016-2017, answering Members' questions and challenges about a spending and policy plan that does more to help working New York families than any other budget in recent memory.
The final budget negotiated by Speaker Carl E. Heastie, Governor Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on behalf of their Legislative Conferences includes a significantly higher minimum wage, education aid in the amount of $24.7 billion including an end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment cut to school aid that was forced by the economic crash of 2008, the strongest paid family leave program in the country, a tuition freeze for the State University of New York and City University of New York, a tax cut for middle-class workers, and much more.
Assemblyman Farrell debates a budget bill for State Fiscal Year 2016-2017 on the floor.
Significant investments have been made in affordable, high-quality housing and other quality-of-life improvements, not only in the City and State as a whole, but here in the District - I was able to fit several important projects into the budget, which I will talk about in detail at a later date.
A $15 Minimum Wage in New York City by 2018
For years, the Assembly's Majority Conference has fought for a living wage that puts hardworking families on the path to success and independence, no longer the slow road to poverty. This year's budget agreement marks an important victory in that struggle. In New York City, the minimum wage will increase to $11 by the end of 2016 and then by $2 each year thereafter, reaching $15 by 2018. Those who work for companies with less than 10 employees will see their wages rise slower to avoid harming small businesses, reaching a $15 wage by 2019.
Critics of a higher minimum wage claim, as they always do, that ensuring workers better pay will lead to job losses and will harm the economy. My reply is that if this were the truth, our society would have made no progress beyond living in caves and wearing animal skins to protect us from the cold. The automaker Henry Ford, who was not a person known for his generosity, paid his workers a fair wage so they were able to afford the cars they made. That speaks volumes.
As one of my Assembly colleagues pointed out during our floor debate on the bill that raised the wage, we are not hurting New York State small businesses. We are giving them new customers.
Paid Family Leave Opens the Door to Economic Stability During Trying Times
Since 1997, members of the Assembly Majority have supported legislation designed to create a paid family leave program to offer economic security to workers who must take time off from their jobs to care for a newborn, an ailing family member, or when a breadwinner is called away to active military service. One of the most important components of our budget for 2016-2017 is the beginning stage of a program that, when fully phased in, will offer 12 weeks of paid leave to those who find themselves in such a situation. Our program creates a self-sustaining fund that will be paid into by workers, just pennies per paycheck, which will not harm employers or force workers to make an impossible choice between working and caring for a loved one in need.
Increased Aid for Education
I have always believed that education is the key to unlocking the many opportunities life presents, and have always fought to give all our young people access to high-quality education, and similarly high-quality education for everyone who seeks to further their career. The final version of our budget increases education aid by $1.47 billion, or 6.3 percent, while increasing Foundation Aid by $627 million to help ensure that all schools are fairly funded and have the resources they need to meet their Constitutionally-required responsibility to educate our children.
Recognizing the importance and lifelong benefits of early education, our budget allocates $807 million for the continuing implementation and development of the statewide universal pre-Kindergarten program and sets aside $2 billion to improve the use of technology in the classroom. The budget also includes $433 million to fully eliminate the Gap Elimination once and for all, ending the hardship borne by schools and taxpayers since the recession devastated State revenues. Doing away with this cut will help prevent teacher layoffs and program cuts.
The budget also allocates $175 million to transform struggling schools to what are called "community schools," which offer a range of services including mentoring, health care and family support programs which are designed to remove obstacles' from students' paths and allow them to focus on their studies. By converting struggling schools into community schools, we hope to turn these schools into hubs of support that provide much-needed support to at-risk families and address the issues associated with poverty.
The Assembly also insisted the budget include a $20 million investment in President Obama's My Brother's Keeper program to help close the opportunity gap for young men of color.
Investing in Our Higher Education System
It is no secret that today, higher education is as important to getting a good job as a high school diploma was generations ago. Recognizing this fact, the Assembly's Majority Conference fought for an won critical support for students seeking to continue their education and the public institutions where they study. We added $5.9 million to the Higher Education Opportunity Program, for a total of $35.5 million; $5.4 million to the Educational Opportunity Program, for a total of $32.2 million; $4.7 million for the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge program for a total of $28.1 million; $3.1 million to Liberty Partnerships, for a total of $18.4 million; $2.6 million for the Science and Technology Entry Program, for a total of $15.8 million.
We also insisted on ending the experimental "rational tuition" program that was put in place several years ago to end a problem with large, irregular tuition increases at SUNY and CUNY. This program, which had good intentions, created a new problem and ended up hitting students and their families with tuition bills that increased by hundreds of dollars year after year. We offset SUNY's needs by allocating $18 million in operating funds, $13.3 million for SUNY community colleges and other important sources of funding. SUNY students are not the only ones who will benefit from a tuition increase this year, as CUNY students got the same deal.
State Budget Funds MTA, Important Road and Bridge Repairs
The budget provides the Metropolitan Transportation Agency with $7.3 billion during the period of time covered by the Authority's 2015-2019 capital plan, allowing for improved infrastructure such as the purchase of new buses, subway and train cars, transit station improvements and modern signal systems. We also fought for and won $950 million to extend the Second Avenue Subway uptown to 125th Street, a crucial project that almost didn't come to pass because of proposed cuts to MTA's budget.
New York State's Department of Transportation will be able to perform more needed upgrades after more than $1 billion was added to their five-year capital plan, most of which is earmarked for road and bridge maintenance programs.
Herman "Denny" Farrell, Jr.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Farrell addresses questions relating to changes in the Gap Elimination in the Assembly Budget Proposal. E.203