MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio will remain in charge of the city’s public schools — for the next two years, at least — after an 11th-hour agreement in Albany averted a return to the old, decentralized system ahead of Friday’s deadline.
After state lawmakers could not agree to the terms of mayoral control before their legislative session ended last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called a special session Wednesday.
Had they not granted de Blasio’s extension and approved the bill on Thursday, mayoral control would have lapsed on Friday, and the previous system of the Board of Education and 32 local school districts, with elected members, would have returned.
The deal had been held up due to a fight over expanding the charter school cap, even though many said that was a separate issue than mayoral control.
The threat of the old system, which many said was rife with corruption and pay-to-play schemes to get jobs, sent a wave of uncertainty across the nation’s largest school system, which educates roughly 1.1 million children.
By giving the mayor a two-year extension, as opposed to the one-year extension granted last time, de Blasio will have a slight reprieve on pleading his case to Albany.
"For the next two years we will not have the distraction of another vote in Albany," the mayor said Thursday afternoon, only a few hours after the deal was settled.
"We will have our attention squarely on our children."
The move brings "an important measure of stability,” he said in a statement.
“Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, education advocates, business and labor leaders, and a diverse coalition of allies played an equally crucial role in putting aside partisan politics and getting this legislation across the finish line."
He added, “Our state government’s action allows us to refocus our attention away from the political process and back to our classrooms, where it belongs.”
De Blasio said last week that his big initiatives like Pre-K for All, expanding free after-school programs for middle schoolers and his planned 3-K for All would not have happened under the old, decentralized system.
He also pointed out that all of these initiatives included charter schools, and the city would work with all kinds of schools — including charters and parochial. But the biggest work is done within the city's public school system, he said.
"The key determinant of our future will be traditional public schools," he said Thursday.
"In the end Albany chose equity and excellence over chaos and corruption."
The business community expressed its support for the decision.
“At a moment when there is partisan deadlock on critical issues facing the nation, New York State has transcended political interests to do what is right for the 1.1 million children whose future depends on a good education,” Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said in a statement.
“Since mayoral control was first enacted in 2002, there has been significant improvement in the city’s education system and it is gratifying that this will continue.”
The Alliance for Quality Education, a nonprofit pushing to get the funding legally owed under a court settlement from Albany to city schools, criticized state lawmakers for playing a “high stakes game of chicken” to try and get more charter schools in exchange for mayoral control.
The group has been particularly angry with the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference in the state Senate for pushing the charter expansion.
“The winners are the public school children of New York and the taxpayers who were protected from further increases in the already oversized charter school sector and the many millions of additional taxpayer subsidies that such expansion would include,” the AQE statement said.
“The losers are the billionaire Wall Street charter school backers whose millions of dollars in campaign contributions prop up the unholy alliance between the Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference in the State Senate.