Mudslinging; accusations of extra-marital affairs; homophobia. Voters could easily think those are the biggest issues in the race for New York's next governor. But both Democrat Andrew Cuomo and Republican Carl Paladino are also talking about the issues: Namely property taxes and corruption in government. WNYC's Beth Fertig explains where they stand on education.
How much influence does the governor has when it comes to education?
Not much. Education is the only non-executive state agency. It's run by the Board of Regents, who are selected by the Legislature. Those Regents pick the state education commissioner and vote on policy issues. The governor's budget also needs approval from the legislature. So it's really about leadership and agenda setting.
Does either major candidate have any significant proposals when it comes to agenda setting?
Not surprisingly, Republican Carl Paladino has the most dramatic proposal. He wants to "dismember" the state's Department of Education. That doesn't mean get rid of it. Paladino wants the state to reduce its overall spending by 20 percent. In education, he says he'd do that by consolidating school districts to save money on superintendents. So instead of having each of the 28 districts in Erie County have their own superintendents and assistants, he'd bundle them all under one superintendent.
The state school boards have actually been calling for something like this -- although not as radical. They had said you could save money on busing and food, stuff like that, if you consolidated the purchasing for a few small upstate districts, lumping them together. Cuomo has talked about this, too. Cuomo's people also note that as Attorney General he cracked down on school superintendents who retired and came back as consultants.
What about school spending since that's the big issue? Where do they stand on that?
The state was supposed to spend more on school aid after a big lawsuit by a group called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. And in 2007, the legislature agreed to spend an additional $7 billion over four years -- most of which would go to New York City, because it has the greatest number of kids in poverty, and crowded schools.
But the money dried up when the state ran into trouble. The schools were supposed to get all the CFE money by this school year, 2010-2111. Governor Paterson made it a seven-year plan. And now it's looking more like a 10-year plan.
Would either candidate speed that up?
It depends on the state's fiscal situation. But they do have their own philosophies. The other day The New York Times quoted Paladino saying money for schools should be distributed equally to all children. Now if you read that literally, that means all kids get the same amount of money regardless of whether they're in poverty or have special language or learning needs. Which is contrary to the CFE decision and the state's current formulas which give those students more money than kids without any special needs who live in wealthy districts. I asked Paladino's spokesman, Mike Caputo, about that. He said Paladino would comply with the law -- meaning he would go along with the Fiscal Equity settlement. Then I asked him if he'd speed up the timetable and fully fund it. He said that with Paladino's pledge to cut state spending by 20 percent there'd be more money for schools.
What about Andrew Cuomo?
Cuomo has said he believes kids with high needs deserve more money, he's clearly more in tune with the people who brought the lawsuit. At least in theory. But the state's economy is still really bad. We're facing a potential $9 or $10 billion deficit next year. Cuomo has called for an emergency financial plan which would freeze salaries, impose a spending cap and freeze taxes. But we don't know if he'd find more money for the schools -- just that he thinks the government needs to become more efficient. Cuomo has noted that New York spends more per student than any other state but still has one of the lowest high school graduation rates.
What about education reform? Do the candidates have any positions on the big issues people are talking about?
They both supported allowing more charter schools -- and the legislature passed that into law this year. Carl Paladino also supports giving out vouchers parents can use to send their children to private and religious schools. Cuomo doesn't support that. Paladino wants boarding schools for poor students starting in kindergarten if their districts have really low performing schools. In fact, he wants a special master appointed for school districts that have a four-year graduation rate of less than 60 percent. That includes his native Buffalo.
And Paladino is very definite about taking on the teachers unions. He says he wants to make it easier to remove bad teachers by eliminating tenure. Cuomo hasn't done as much to challenge the teachers unions. He's been supportive of the group Democrats for Education Reform which has criticized some union work rules. He supports measuring teacher performance. But he's also not gotten into the middle of any of the current feuds between Mayor Bloomberg and the union.
What about higher education?
The State University of New York is not under the governor's control. SUNY tried and failed this year to get control over setting its tuition, instead of needing the legislature's approval. Cuomo supports that concept. But he's more cautious about SUNY's goal of letting different campuses set their own tuition or charging more for certain programs like engineering. He does favor a pilot program though -- letting SUNY Buffalo and StonyBrook charge higher tuitions, for example, because they're research schools, and they want to play a bigger role in their communities. Paladino supports that, too. Again, that's all up to the legislature.