A few weeks after the end of the 2016 legislative session, Governor Andrew Cuomo has only recently finished signing the bills that passed during the final moments Assembly Members and Senators spent in Albany. As we look back on the session, though, we have important victories to celebrate on some of RJV’s priority issues for this year.
Two of our main victories this year were on legislation relating to public education. The Reform Jewish Movement has been a steadfast supporter of public education, responding to both the mandate that “any city that does not have a school in it shall be cut off [all contact] until they find a teacher for the children” (Hilchot Talmud Torah 2:1) and our understanding that public education is a critical tool for social mobility, providing enhanced opportunities to people of all races, creeds and economic status.
First and foremost, the legislature passed a bill that continues the authorization for independent monitoring of the East Ramapo School Board, expands the powers and responsibilities of the State Education Commissioner to oversee the fiscal activities of that school board and provides additional funding to enable the School Board to restore academic programs for public school students. This legislation, led by Senator Carlucci and Assembly Members Jaffee and Zebrowski, did not include the monitor with veto power over the Board’s decisions that we and community advocates sought, but it does go a long way to ensuring the restoration of a quality public school education to the children attending public school in the district. Since East Ramapo community members, the school board, the Governor and legislative leaders had already endorsed such a compromise, the oversight bill passed both chambers with near unanimous support.
RJV mobilized our supporters to call for swift passage of the legislation, which is only effective for one year. Now that the Governor has signed the bill, we can celebrate the fact that public school students in East Ramapo will return to schools that are better-funded and supervised this fall. At the same time, as RJV co-chairs Barbara Zaron and Richard C. Laskey made clear in their statement applauding the bill’s passage, “We fully recognize the fact that this bill is only one step towards realizing this vision and addressing all challenges faced by the school district.” As the State implements this important legislation, we will continue to work with East Ramapo community advocates for long-term solutions that serve the district’s public school students.
This year’s session also ended without passage of legislation to create the Education Tax Credit, despite multiple attempts by the State Senate to pass a stand-alone bill and to tie the provision to larger bills to ensure passage. RJV advocated tirelessly against this legislation, which would essentially divert money being spent on public education to private and religious schools, raising significant First Amendment concerns and giving New York’s wealthiest taxpayers a substantial break on their New York State income taxes. We are pleased that the Education Tax Credit legislation didn’t pass the Assembly, and we will keep our opposition to this harmful proposal alive going forward.
The legislature also passed an ethics and campaign finance reform package that strips public officials convicted of corruption of their pensions and further restricts coordination between political campaigns and organizations making independent expenditures. RJV had also promoted reforms to New York’s campaign finance system that would limit the role money plays in politics, and we were consequently disappointed that the legislature did not act to close the LLC loophole.
This legislative session brought much to celebrate and reaffirmed RJV’s commitments to issues that have yet to be fully resolved. We are already looking forward to next year’s session. Save the date for RJV’s 2017 Advocacy Day on May 8, and Teen Advocacy Day on March 19-20.