Renew mayoral control of city’s public schools

Photo by Julieanne Prevete Councilmember Johnson speaks with a student at a Participatory Budgeting Expo earlier this year at P.S. 340. Photo by Julieanne Prevete / Orange Blossom Photography

BY COREY JOHNSON | It’s another legislative session in Albany, and once again State Senate Republicans are holding a key New York City issue hostage in order to extract concessions: mayoral control of New York City’s schools.

Let’s put aside the obvious question of why legislators who represent districts hundreds of miles away from here have the authority to determine how New York City runs its schools. We must then ask whether or not mayoral control has been a success. The answer is yes, and it’s outrageous that it’s being held up for political horse-trading.

Before mayoral control, New York City schools were run by a myriad of school boards and a seven-member Board of Education, appointed by six different entities. This labyrinth resulted in no accountability, no direct lines of authority and no centralized decision-making. It was unclear who was responsible for the failing education system. Therefore, no one was responsible.

Mayoral control allows for a singular vision for our school system with stability, efficiency and clear accountability. The buck stops with the mayor.

Fifteen years into mayoral control, it is abundantly clear that it has paid dividends. During Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s term, the city’s graduation rate increased from 50.8 percent to 66 percent. Mayor Bill de Blasio has further built on that progress. New York City’s four-year graduation rate hit 72.6 percent last school year, the highest rate in city history and a 2-point increase over the year before. Before mayoral control, 22 percent of kids dropped out of high school. Last year, New York City’s dropout rate hit an all-time low: 8.5 percent.

Academic performance continues to improve under mayoral control. Last year, there was an 8 percent increase over the year before in students taking and passing at least one Advanced Placement exam. Participation in the A.P. exam among black students increased by more than 14 percent, and it rose 10 percent for Hispanic students. In 2016, the share of the city’s students who passed the state English exam jumped by nearly 8 points to 38 percent, matching the state average for the first time. While test scores are by no means the best measure to evaluate our schools, the positive trend they reflect can’t be ignored.

Mayoral control fosters innovation. In 2014, the mayor’s Pre-K for All program increased access to early-childhood education to nearly 70,000 children. This year, the mayor announced he will now build on that work by setting on a path to offer a free, full-day, high-quality education for every 3-year-old.

Clearly, this should be a no-brainer. But, true to form, the Republicans are not motivated by the merits. They are holding mayoral control hostage in exchange for giveaways to charter schools and tax credits for private and parochial schools.

Luckily, we have outstanding Democrats representing us in Albany, including Senators Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried, Deborah Glick and Linda Rosenthal. It is our job to support them and to send a strong message to the Senate Republicans: Stop playing politics with our children’s futures.

Johnson is councilmember, Third District (Greenwich Village, Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen)