New York State School Boards Association

In State of State, Andrew sounded like Mario

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • January 22, 2018

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

As he prepares to run for a third term this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered a State of the State message on Jan. 3 that was short on barbs for public education, which he criticized in prior years as a "monopoly" plagued by "failing" schools.

His 90-minute speech was laced with harsh words for the Trump Administration and came amid speculation that he is eyeing a presidential bid in 2020. He described his vision for the upcoming year as "probably the most challenging agenda that I have ever put forth."

It was Cuomo's eighth State of the State message, and it marked his third since his father, three-term governor Mario Cuomo, died on Jan. 1, 2015. After folding the address into his executive budget presentations in 2015 and 2016 and touring the state for multiple iterations of the speech last year, he returned to a more traditional format this year and delivered the speech on the opening day of the Legislative session.

At times, he sounded a lot like his father, echoing his inclusive themes and even slipping in a reference to "the family of New York."

"Family of New York" was a favorite phrase of Mario Cuomo, noted Marc Humbert, a retired senior writer for On Board who covered both Cuomos as Capitol bureau chief for the Associated Press.

"As is often the case when he knows he might have a tough sell politically and wants to energize the Democratic political base, the current governor turns to the words of his late father," Humbert said.

Cuomo avoided the stormy rhetoric of his early annual messages, which were packed with complaints about public education and educators. It was the third consecutive year in which his references to education were generally lighter in tone, frequency and substance. No task forces were named.

In his first State of the State speech, in 2011, Cuomo proposed the current cap on local property tax growth and handed out a failing grade to the state's schools.

"Not only do we spend too much, but we get too little," he declared then. "We spend more money on education than any state in the nation, and we are number 34 in terms of results."

The following year, in his 2012 speech, he claimed a role as the state's true "lobbyist for students." And in 2013, he touted proposals for reforms, such as expanded full-day prekindergarten, master teachers and other initiatives to be funded primarily through competitive grants, rather than the school aid formula.

Cuomo's relationship with school advocates was particularly rancorous in 2014 and 2015, as he transitioned into his second term. He sought to penalize school districts financially if they did not adopt tough teacher rating systems tied to state test results, and he championed a receivership system for schools he bluntly described as "failing."

In speeches and interviews during those two years, he lambasted New York schools as "one of the only remaining public monopolies" and waded into the debate over Common Core learning standards. He blamed the state's education bureaucracy, which operates separately from his executive branch, for bungling a string of education reforms.

His 2016 speech, which was combined with his executive budget presentation, was the first to noticeably soften his message on education. He began to distance himself from politically sensitive education policy debates regarding testing, learning standards and teacher evaluations.

And in 2017, Cuomo delivered six separate State of the State addresses around the state. He barely mentioned schools, except for a list of targeted funding proposals.

The 2018 State of the State appeared to complete his pivot from the rhetoric he used in the years 2011 to 2015. It included several union-friendly passages and was praised by Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers.

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