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Education groups giving funds but not taking sides in gov.'s race

Major state education stakeholders are funneling money to both sides in the not-yet-officialbut-looking-likely gubernatorial primary contest between Governor David Paterson and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

But donors say that although their gifts coincided with increased speculation about Cuomo’s entry into the governor’s race, the donations are more a reflection of what they want to see happen now than a sign they’re taking sides in a future race.

The state teachers union, which vigorously opposed Paterson’s recent attempt to raise the cap on charter schools in the state without additional restrictions, gave $8,400 to Cuomo in the middle of December. That donation followed a $10,000 gift to the attorney general last June.

Union spokesman Carl Korn said that the most recent donation was an indication of support for the attorney generals’ crackdown on predatory lending to students and not a forward-looking political move.

Cuomo has so far kept quiet on his views on charter schools and recently refused to comment on whether he supported Paterson’s push to increase the number of charters allowed under state law.

By contrast, Democrats for Education Reform, the lobbying group whose political fund-raising often challenges efforts of local teachers unions, put $10,000 into Paterson’s coffers this month. The political action committee’s contribution was dated January 11, three days after Paterson announced his proposal to abolish the cap on charter schools in New York. Encouraging charter school growth, along with instituting merit pay programs and changing how teachers are evaluated, are among the political priorities that guide DFER’s giving.

Joe Williams, DFER’s executive director, said that the donation should not be read as a line in the sand. “We’ve had a long-standing relationships with Governor Paterson, and a lot of our supporters have supported the attorney general,” he said.

Rather, DFER’s donation to Paterson was intended as a boost to the governor’s effort to lift the charter cap before the deadline for the federal Race to the Top grant application, Williams said.

“If we can’t [enact] Race to the Top [reforms] this year, we need to do it next year, but we can’t really wait a year,” he said.

Charter school interest groups have so far kept out of the donations game. The Coalition for Public Charter Schools, the political giving arm of the New York Charter Schools Association, donated $500 to Cuomo in October but has not given to either candidate since.

Other interests, including unions who may not have been motivated by the battle over Race to the Top, are giving to both sides.

The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents city principals, has donated $5,000 to each campaign — to Cuomo in mid-December and to Paterson at the beginning of January.

D.C. 37, the union that represents school aides whose contracts do not protect them from layoffs under sustained school budget cuts, also donated to both candidates on the same day in December. The union donated $2,000 to Paterson, while Cuomo received a $1,000 donation.