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De Blasio vs. Lhota: the edu-voter's guide to the final matchup

If you’re like most New York City voters, you’ve already decided who you’re voting for in tomorrow’s mayoral election. (The latest poll puts support for frontrunner Bill de Blasio at 65 percent, and only 8 percent say they might change their minds before Election Day.) But if education is a top priority and you’re still on the fence, here’s the final rundown of what de Blasio and Republican candidate Joe Lhota say they would do as mayor and head of the nation’s largest school system.

Mayoral control

Both don’t want their power diluted significantly: De Blasio and Lhota have said that the mayor should appoint the majority of the members of the Panel for Educational Policy. But they also agree on that PEP members should serve fixed terms and not at the will of the mayor, which would give the body somewhat more autonomy from City Hall.

Charter schools

The big divergence: Lhota has offered full-throated support of the city’s charter school sector, pledging to double the number of charter schools in the city and continue to support co-locating them in public space. De Blasio has said that well-funded charter school networks should pay rent and said “the city doesn’t need new charters.” He also would pause the system of co-locations—positions that have worried charter network operators and some parents.

The divide was on full display at the October rally charter school supporters held before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, where Lhota greeted students and parents. De Blasio did not attend, though he has taken steps to appear moderate on the issue lately. “There are some very good charter schools, and I’m glad we have them,” he said in August.

Pre-kindergarten access

Similar goals, very different plans: De Blasio has made raising taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for universal, full-day pre-kindergarten a centerpiece of his mayoral campaign. Lhota has painted himself as a “real” fiscal conservative, and is generally opposed to tax increases. “That’s not going to do one bloody thing to solve income inequity,” Lhota has said of de Blasio’s preschool plan, though he also supports expanding the availability of pre-K.

School closures
It’s a fundamental disagreement: Lhota has said that keeping low-performing schools open is “immoral” and that he would continue the Bloomberg-era policy of closing schools. De Blasio has called for a moratorium on school closures.

Letter grades

Another total divide: De Blasio has said he would stop issuing letter grades for individual schools, a hallmark of Bloomberg-era accountability. Lhota has emphasized his support for continuing to measure schools in multiple ways and would keep the letter grade system in place.

School support

Tentative ideas for a complicated topic: De Blasio has indicated that he supports giving more power to districts and would consider rethinking the network structure that currently provides support to schools. “Districts matter. … We need to find a way to get parents to be able to talk to someone at the district level; teachers, parents relating to leadership at the district level again,” he said. Lhota has offered few specifics about how, or whether, he would make changes to the structure of support organizations.

Merit pay

Another divergence: Lhota has made paying teachers based on performance a central plank in his education platform, arguing that “The one piece that’s missing is working with the union for merit pay and changing their approach.” De Blasio doesn’t support tying pay to performance, something that the city teachers union has consistently opposed.

Specialized high school admissions

A pet issue: De Blasio has often spoken about his desire to amend the admissions process for the city’s nine specialized high schools, proposing a process that would use criteria beyond the Specialized High School Admissions Test to improve diversity in those schools. (De Blasio’s son Dante attends Brooklyn Tech, a specialized high school.) Lhota hasn’t spoken out on the issue, which would affect a small percentage of the city’s high school students.

Cell phones in school

Here, some unity: both de Blasio and Lhota say they want to end the ban on cell phones in schools. That’s a policy that has upset parents and City Council members have called “inconsistent and posssibly discriminatory.” It made de Blasio’s wife Chirlaine upset enough to approach Mayor Bloomberg about.

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