Felder to Chair Powerful New Education Committee: Source

ALBANY, N.Y. -

State Sen. Simcha Felder will be given the powerful chairmanship of a newly-created subcommittee handling education issues in New York City, dealing the senator representing the so-called “super-Jewish” district an outsized voice on yeshivah budgets and tuition relief.

A source close to the Senate GOP leadership told Hamodia yesterday that Senate majority leader Dean Skelos acceded to Mr. Felder’s request to create the committee, which will oversee the largest public school system in the United States.

“This will be one of the most powerful chairs,” the source said. “The deal was that nothing can come to the education committee, nothing can come to the floor, anything related to [education in] the city of New York, before it goes through this committee.”

The announcement of all committee chairs is expected to be made next Wednesday.

Mr. Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat representing the largest number of yeshivos in the nation, announced shortly after his election in November that he would caucus with the Republicans. The GOP, led by Mr. Skelos, was then in tense negotiations with the five-member Independent Democratic Conference to hold onto their tenuous majority. That decision paid off when Mr. Felder was awarded the chairmanship.

The new six-man committee will supervise the $24-billion education system which educates 1.1 million students, more than double any other city in the nation. Importantly for Mr. Felder, it will also have a powerful say on funding private and parochial schools, bus transportation for late homecoming yeshivah students and cutting the bureaucracy surrounding cultural sensitivities in special education.

Mr. Felder, formerly a New York City deputy comptroller, ran on a platform of easing the tuition burden for yeshivah parents. According to the source, when meeting Mr. Skelos in advance of his caucusing with the GOP, Mr. Felder demanded, and received, this subcommittee.

Sen. John Flanagan (R- Long Island), a Touro law school graduate, chairs the broader education committee. But legislation pertaining specifically to New York City will first have to go through Mr. Felder’s committee.

While it would not allow him to directly fund yeshivos or organizations, Mr. Felder’s perch would give him a dominant leverage in negotiations with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

One of Mr. Felder’s first hearings will likely take on one of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature education policies, allowing New York City to use teacher evaluations in hiring and firings. The city’s Bloomberg-controlled department of education wants to fire underperforming teachers while the teachers’ union wants firings to be strictly on a last-in-first-out basis.

This comes as mayoral control for the city’s public schools, granted Mr. Bloomberg in a historic state legislature vote in 2002, expires in the summer of 2015. Mr. Felder would then be the prevailing voice in the debate whether to renew it or not. The election to replace Mr. Bloomberg, who is term limited, is this November.

Mr. Felder will also chair the Children and Families committee, which has a strong say on how the local municipalities distributes school vouchers, a major issue in the Orthodox community.