A video interview released last month by Nomiki Konst of The Young Turks has raised the profile of the controversial eight member Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of NY legislators who have entered a “strategic” power sharing coalition with Republicans in a closely divided State Senate.
The IDC is actually receiving money from the very wealthy through pro-charter PACs as they deny long-owed school funding to the poorest districts in NY. The good news is there is still time to come through for NY schools, but the April 1st budget vote is approaching fast.
The IDC has been a sore issue for New York Democrats who outnumber Republicans two to one. In the age of Trump, however, there has been a sharp rise in the number of grassroots groups coalescing to pressure rogue IDC senators to help mainline Democrats regain the majority as issues like campaign finance, taxation, healthcare and education funding hang in the balance.
Teacher and parent groups were keen to learn from the TYT video that IDC members take funding from the same charter school backers that fund Republicans and were concerned that the IDC is helping Trump and Betsy DeVos increase privatization of NY’s public schools.
In the NYC suburb of Rockland County, founding IDC member David Carlucci learned a local resistance group was forming and attended a meeting to explain his IDC membership. I went to the meeting and asked Senator Carlucci if he supports charter schools and if he takes money from charter school backers:
As the video shows, Senator Carlucci was in no rush to get on the record for or against charter schools. He instead offered “public schools [are] my top priority”, but would not disclose whether or not he opposes charter schools. As the approaching NY state budget vote includes a measure to increase the number of charter schools in nearby NYC, constituent teachers and parents want to know where he stands, because other IDC members are on the record in support of charter schools.
Senator Carlucci was also in no rush to talk about his charter school funding, but when pressed, explained that pro-charter PACs fund both sides, including IDC members. He initially said he didn’t know if he took charter money, but eventually conceded that he probably did, and also revealed that Cardinal Dolan of the NY Catholic Archdiocese, who backed last year’s IDC bill for religious school tax credits, is also a “major pusher” of charters.
I soon after learned that Senator Carlucci received $7,000 from the pro-charter PAC Democrats for Education Reform on the eve of the last election, and that DFER and other Wall Street-backed charter PACs had been flooding IDC coffers with hundreds of thousands more. This included gifts from frequent Republican donors and Walton family heirs as well as money moved through “housekeeping” accounts. Senator Carlucci also voted for almost $250 million in new charter funding despite his silence on the issue.
As the various PACs intersect and overlap, we see PACs like New Yorkers for Putting Students First shares staff with StudentsFirst of Michelle Rhee fame, while others like DFER include “Democrats” in their name to deflect just how tied to Republicans they actually are.
I followed up with Senator Carlucci who clarified some of his positions, and he explained he now opposes vouchers. However, he did not offer clear-cut opinions either for or against standardized testing or Common Core.
But the biggest education issue bearing down on Albany at the moment is the Foundation Aid funding battle, where Republicans want to greatly shortchange impoverished schools while traditional Democrats are seeking full funding of a court-ordered settlement allocating over $4 billion to districts based on poverty.
Senator Carlucci and the “Independent” Democrats agreed to full funding at first, but balked when just such an amendment was introduced for a vote. Instead, they endorsed the meager Republican plan which offers $1.2 billion but changes funding formulas and in so doing, nullifies the original settlement, wiping off the books billions owed to struggling schools.
Commenting on an assembly proposal for a $1.8 billion dollar increase with full funding within three years, Senator Carlucci said they were “at a really good number” but because they were getting there by raising taxes on millionaires, he said “I just don’t think it’s realistic right now that that’s going to happen”.
Edited by Lydia McMullen-Laird