Aware of the possibility that Mayor Bloomberg will be replaced by a more union sympathetic mayor when he leaves office in 2014, leaders of the national education reform movement have formed a political group to offset union influence in the 2013 New York mayoral election. Most of the current frontrunners for the position are known to be better disposed towards the unions and Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
StudentsFirstNY is led by Joel Klein, the former schools chancellor in New York, Michelle Rhee, who held the same position in Washington, and Micah Lasher, the director of state legislative affairs for Bloomberg.
Members of the group worry that without a significant marshaling of forces, their achievements could be dismantled. Their aim is to raise $10 million annually for five years, hoping to make an imprint throughout the next mayor’s first term.
The group aims to pressure candidates into revealing their education positions publicly during the mayoral campaign. This is seen as crucial because many loose ends in education reform will still remain to be tied up during the next mayor’s tenure. For example, the city’s contract with the unions remains to be negotiated with the unions pushing hard for schoolwide bonuses instead of the individual merit bonuses favored by reformists. Mayoral control is also due to come up for state renewal by Albany in 2015.
“This organization is really going to represent a redoubling of efforts, new energy and serious resources, invested in making our schools great in a climate that may not be as favorable post-Jan. 1, 2014,” Mr. Lasher said. He has been the mayor’s point person in Albany, and was involved in negotiating the recent deal creating a new teacher evaluation system.
Rhee and Klein have a turbulent relationship with the unions and Klein in particular is unlikely to give ground on an issue he knows is vital to the future of America. He recently headed a task force with Condoleeza Rice which found that if American schools continued to underperform it would put the nation’s economic prosperity and security at risk.