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United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew

Stephanie Snyder/Chalkbeat

What does your ‘Con Con’ vote mean for education? Here’s what you need to know.

New York City’s teachers union sent out a quiz about the state’s upcoming vote on a constitutional convention asking: Will the convention likely result in “a lifetime supply of pizza” or “the loss of rights and benefits that working families depend on?”

The question is meant to be sarcastic and the answer — that it will rob workers of benefits —  is designed to paint an unflattering picture of the convention. The quiz is one aspect of a hard-fought union campaign against Tuesday’s ballot proposal that could open the state’s constitution to any and all amendments.

Proponents of a convention — nicknamed “Con Con” — argue it presents a rare chance to make much-needed changes to the state’s constitution, which could include adding language to boost school funding. Besides education, Con Con supporters argue it could invite revisions to the very way the state is governed, including ethics reform and major changes to the judiciary, as well as address social issues like abortion protections.

However, opponents argue the convention could be hijacked by conservatives who are hostile to labor protections. Since convention delegates would be selected from Republican-leaning State Senate districts, the teacher union reasons that a convention could erode teachers’ rights and send money to private schools.

Here’s what you need to know about how Con Con could affect New York state education:

Why is New York City’s teachers union so against this?

Teachers union representatives are worried that a constitutional convention could put pensions and workers’ rights at risk. New York state’s constitution enshrines the rights of workers to collectively bargain and organize, said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. It also protects pensions, which union officials fear could be on the chopping block during a convention, he said.

“I think the state has a lot to lose tomorrow,” Mulgrew said. “It would be a huge mistake for New York State to have this process.”  

Are there other education issues at stake?

Some advocates fear a constitutional convention would allow money to flow to private schools. The state constitution contains an amendment prohibiting the use of public money to fund religions schools, wrote Donna Lieberman, executive director of the NYCLU, in an op-ed opposing the convention. The last time New York held a convention in 1967, a proposal that would have allowed public funds to cover religious schools gathered steam, but eventually proved too controversial.

Emboldened by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who champions religious schools, Lieberman fears supporters of religious education could again try to undo this amendment, which she said would strip funds from public education.

Are there potential education benefits?

Instead of eroding school funding, a constitutional convention could ensure it flows directly into school budgets, said David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

More than 10 years after the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit settlement, which ruled the state had to allocate more money to schools in order to provide students with a “sound basic education,” advocates say schools are still owed billions of dollars. (The governor disputes that.) Bloomfield said that without a radical change like a constitutional convention, “there is no hope” for school funding reform.

“The current political apparatus is fixed for incumbents and crooks,” he said.