De Blasio and Cuomo Start to Compromise on Schools

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Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Eva Moskowitz is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s problem now.

Okay, that’s premature, and a vast oversimplification. But the state senate budget proposal that’s emerging in Albany this afternoon shapes up as a bit of a swap. Mayor Bill de Blasio would get a major win on pre-K funding. At the same time,  if not exactly in exchange, the city would lose some control over charter schools.

Senate majority co-leaders Dean Skelos (Republicans) and Jeff Klein (rogue Democrats) are proposing to give de Blasio as much as $540 million in state funds annually for universal pre-kindergarten and expanded middle school after-school programs. De Blasio would take a short-term political loss by punting on a tax increase for the city’s wealthiest, but his side would be able to claim a big victory for little kids.

The charter equation is more complicated. The proposal would reverse the three recent cancellations of Moskowitz’s Success Academy co-locations; boost city taxpayer funding for charter tuitions, and make charters eligible for facilities money; and allow charters to apply to be overseen by SUNY or the state Board of Regents instead of the city’s Department of Education.

Cuomo would win by appearing to follow through on his vow to “save” charters and to have held the line on taxes. What could turn out to be problematic down the road — for both Cuomo and de Blasio — is if this is the first step toward eroding mayoral control of the city’s public schools.

But let’s not get too excited just yet. The statements rapidly issued this afternoon by de Blasio and his allies cheering the “unprecedented commitment” to pre-K and after-school funding carried more than a whiff of posturing, as if trying to nudge the tentative agreement into concrete reality.

And there is, of course, a second house of the state legislature that needs to agree to the final state budget, the Assembly. Its majority leader, Democrat Shelly Silver, has prioritized giving more money to traditional schools, not charters. This afternoon Silver said he’s fine with dropping the tax increase, but that it’s “ludicrous” to undo de Blasio’s decisions on Moskowitz’s schools.

The state budget deadline is still two weeks away. Public campaign financing and the DREAM Act could be players to be named later. “Things in Albany have a way of looking settled,” a senior state official told me recently, “until they’re not.”