Sen. Sampson cites several examples where the both parties came together to agree on major legislation this year, including renewing mayoral control of New York City schools, the recent deficit reduction package, and creating a Tier 5 retirement system to lower employee actuarial costs for the state and local governments.
The New York State Legislature has long been dominated by majority-party control in both houses. The minority party has virtually no power in New York, unlike for example, the United States Senate where it takes 60 percent of membership to enact measures; or in California, where a super-majority of legislators must agree to enact an annual budget.
As The Chalkboard wrote last summer (here), things have changed, at least in the state Senate. The Democrats last year won their first majority in that house since the mid-sixties - barely. To rule as a strict majority therefore requires every majority member--all 32 Democrats of the 62 members--to be present and vote in unanimity on every agreement or bill. Now, most bills that pass either house do so overwhelmingly in bipartisan fashion, but often the deals to make them are made by the majority; and more controversial bills are much tougher to come to consensus among a narrow majority.
Sen. Sampson is admirably reaching across the aisle to the minority Republicans to work together, including offering them committee chairmanships, which is practically unheard of in the Albany statehouse. The devil, of course, is in the details since in a still centrally-controlled Senate or Assembly, legislative committee actions often amount to mere window-dressing in contrast to committees in the U.S. Congress which have greater influence on the shape and outcome of legislation.
Bipartisanship Needed for Race to the Top
One area where bipartisan action will be critical is for the state legislature to enact the education reform agenda set forth by the Board of Regents last week. This Regents recommended agenda includes several provisions affecting charter schools such as raising the statutory cap, authorizing pre-kindergarten, and providing facilities funding.
Charter schools are supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature, so hopefully a consensus can be reached between them, and between both houses and Gov. Paterson, to enact the Regents agenda and win up to $700 million in urgently needed education funds from the Obama Administration's Race to the Top program. Doing so would benefit all children in public education -- district and charter schools.
Sen. Sampson's call for bipartisan action shows leadership to accomplish important objectives for New York. Education reform is now the immediate challenge.
for The Chalkboard
Disclaimer: The Chalkboard is hosted by the New York Charter Schools Association (NYCSA) as a place where members, public education advocates and others can view and respond to informed commentary on timely public education and charter school issues. The views expressed here are not necessarily the official views of the NYCSA, its board, or of any of its individual charter school members. Anyone who claims otherwise is violating the spirit and purpose of this blog. To comment on anything you read here, or to offer tips, advice, comments, or complaints. please contact TheChalkboard.