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The GothamSchools voter's guide for an education election

As if you could forget amid all the noise about sanity and fear, today is election day. And while education hasn’t been at the forefront of any of this year’s big races, the issue is never too far from many voters’ — and candidates’ — minds.

We’ve compiled a short guide to where education fits into the biggest statewide races, as well as a few smaller races where candidates’ stances on education may play a key role.

Governor: Cuomo v. Paladino

From the beginning of his campaign, Cuomo has framed himself as a supporter of President Obama’s education policies and as a would-be governor willing to fight with unions. Though he hasn’t said exactly what he would do in office, he has aligned himself with groups like Democrats for Education Reform, which support increasing the number of charter schools, ending seniority-based layoffs, and changes to teachers’ pensions.

Paladino’s views on education are considerably more radical. According to his website, he supports firing the entire Board of Regents, repealing the law that governs how teachers are fired, and instituting school vouchers. Though he wants to cut the state’s budget by 20 percent, he told reporters that he would not cut education funding.

The city and state teachers unions — alienated by Cuomo but even more unlikely to support Paladin0 — are refusing to endorse either candidate. DFER formally endorsed Cuomo only yesterday, but has been raising money for his campaign for months.

Cuomo and Paladino are the two mainstream party candidates among a total of seven running. Of the remaining candidates, some teachers have thrown their support behind Green Party Candidate Howie Hawkins, who has picked up the endorsement of the group Teachers for a Just Contract.

Read more about Cuomo and Paladino’s takes on education here and here.

Comptroller: DiNapoli v. Wilson

Though not the most high-profile contest this election season, the comptroller’s race has been especially shaped by the education debate.

When Albany voted last May to more than double the number of charter schools allowed to open, legislators added a provision explicitly allowing the state comptroller to audit the schools. The change was intended to overrule a June 2009 state court ruling that found that the comptroller did not have the legal authority to audit charter schools.

Charter advocates have said they intend to challenge the new law’s constitutionality if the next comptroller tries to exercise it. But the outcome of tomorrow’s election may determine whether the charter school lobby even deems a lawsuit necessary.

Incumbent Thomas DiNapoli, who was formerly a Democratic State Assemblyman, has aggressively used his audit power to oversee both the state and city departments of education. One of his audits found flaws in the state’s oversight of Regents exam scoring. Others showed that city education officials did not follow regulations on no-bid contracts or charter school oversight. Another audit found that some high schools falsely claimed they discharged students into GED programs. Before the state court stopped him from doing so, DiNapoli also looked into the finances of several charter schools around the state. DiNapoli’s assertiveness is one of the reasons why the teachers unions and the parent activist group NYC Kids PAC have endorsed him.

His challenger, Republican Harry Wilson, has targeted DiNapoli for that aggressiveness, calling it “politically motivated.” Wilson has close ties to the charter school movement through his work as a hedge fund manager, and he has been praised by charter school advocate and philanthropist Whitney Tilson. Wilson has indicated that he intends to focus his audit attention to areas other than education, such as health care spending.

Attorney General: Schneiderman v. Donovan

When Attorney General candidates Eric Schneiderman and Dan Donovan have sparred over education, it’s been in the context of Schneiderman’s close ties to teachers unions in his current position as a State Senator.

Democrat Schneiderman, who has been endorsed by both the city and state unions, stood with the union through this winter and spring’s protracted negotiations over the state’s charter school cap. Schneiderman is also aligned with the union in his support for retaining the “last-in, first-out” policy governing teacher lay-offs.

That fidelity to the union has drawn criticism from his Republican rival’s campaign, which has called Schneiderman “a wholly owned subsidiary of teachers’ union leadership.”

State legislature

Democrats are fighting to retain their majority in the State Senate; they currently hold it by merely one vote.

One race where Democrats hope they can pick up a seat is in Northeastern Queens, where former City Council Member Tony Avella is challenging Republican incumbent Frank Padavan. Avella has strongly articulated views on education, developed during his tenure on the Council and an unsuccessful mayoral bid last year. According to a GothamSchools survey he returned last year, Avella opposes mayoral control, does not believe that test scores should be a factor in deciding teacher tenure, and thinks that “charter schools should not exist at all.” He also told GothamSchools last year that he opposes the way that the city currently funds its public schools and would work for a system in which schools received the same amount of money for every student.

In Long Island, DFER has been raising money for a Democrat fighting to hold onto his Senate seat, Craig Johnson. Johnson played a key role defeating the version of a charter cap lift that the charter lobby opposed in January, and then supported their favored version in May. DFER has also thrown its fund-raising weight behind Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who was also one of the major players in the push to double the cap on charter schools.

The state teachers union, meanwhile, withdrew its support from several incumbents, including Hoyt, who supported charter advocates’ preferred version of a cap lift. In Hoyt’s race, the union endorsed the Conservative Party candidate, Buffalo Councilman Joe Golombek.

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