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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Key education issues loom in governor's race

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo is shown in this file photo. (Jan. 17, 2012) Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Key school issues are commanding big attention statewide just as a governor's race gets underway -- signaling education embroilments that go deeper than the usual pledges of fealty to kids.

Viewed through the electoral lens, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appears to be fortifying himself against attack from his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino. To gain traction on education issues, Astorino would need to persuasively dissect Cuomo's school approach and evoke something better.

Cuomo's public disagreements over school funding and policy with new New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio may prove later on to have been a useful sideshow for the center-minded governor.

Teachers unions have dug in against charter schools seeking to extend their small foothold in the city's public-school system. Charters represent a partial contracting out of public education.

With de Blasio moving to reverse his predecessor's pro-charter policies as previously promised, charter school backers gathered their troops this week in Albany to protest. Cuomo became their surprise guest star, volubly pledging his full support.

Cuomo thus distanced himself from de Blasio, as he'd already done on the mayor's proposed tax surcharge on top-income city residents. Is it really likely that charter advocates will now direct their support and funding to underdog Astorino?

This political season, Republicans would like middle-of-the-road suburban voters to see "extreme" liberal Democrats based in New York City as the true Cuomo constituency. The governor can tout his tangles with de Blasio -- whom he did endorse -- to help contest that claim.

Calls for expanding pre-K, which de Blasio cast into the current spotlight by linking it to his tax proposal, are popular. Cuomo called for universal pre-K programs statewide -- but without the de Blasio tax. Remember, the city's teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, likes a planned expansion -- and isn't about to put its political chits behind the Republicans.

But then there's the continuing, complicated dust-up over Common Core standards -- the focus of a test revolt in some communities as fierce as a tax revolt.

Astorino already has showed that he will try to pin the fiascoes in its implementation on Cuomo. Last month, in Albany, he told reporters: "It needs to be completely revamped, and Cuomo's Common Core has been an awful mistake in this state . . . an absolute nightmare."

For his part, Cuomo gets to throw the state Education Department, which he formally does not control, under the school bus for the operational flaws that plagued the program.

Last month, he said: "The Board of Regents supervises the state Education Department and I don't appoint anyone to the Board of Regents . . . " Still, he did throw his governmental weight around in the push for carrying out teacher evaluations. And if a Common Core delay bill clears the Senate and reaches his desk, the issue will be in his hands.

Astorino, in his Albany remarks as reported Jan. 22, qualified his critique of Common Core to say: "There are elements of it -- the standardized testing and elevating education is a good thing." But Astorino also criticized "teaching to a test."

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