NYSECB letter to Cuomo: School districts should not be held hostage

The New York State Educational Conference Board, comprised of the seven leading educational organizations across the state, has penned a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanding that state aid runs be released to school districts immediately.

“In our collective memory, it is unprecedented for the state to withhold the release of executive budget aid runs.
These aid runs are not simply a state budget “tradition,” they are necessary and indeed critical to the local
budget development process for hundreds of school districts across the state.”

Last week, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

Click here to read the entire letter [PDF]

Supporters of education from 31 school communities “Stand Up for Upstate Schools” at regional event

More than a thousand teachers, administrators, parents and other supporters of education gathered at Saratoga Springs High School on January 22 to advocate for more equitable funding for schools in upstate New York.

The regional advocacy event brought representatives from the 31 school districts in the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex (WSWHE) BOCES area together to “Stand Up for Upstate Schools.”

“I’m thrilled that so many people attended the event and demonstrated the dedication we have to the schools in our region,” Queensbury Union Free School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Douglas W. Huntley said after the event. “Their support showed tonight.”

Among other advocacy efforts, the event focused on ending the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a measure instituted in 2010 to spread a portion of the state’s budget shortfall among school districts through cuts in state aid. Since 2010, schools in the WSWHE BOCES region have lost $198.5 million in promised state aid to the GEA.

“The state is projecting budget surpluses now. How can we continue to justify the GEA when those budget gaps are gone?” asked Robert N. Lowry, the deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

Lowry was part of a panel of speakers that included representatives from business and higher education, as well as a teacher, a parent and a student.

Allison Lanfear, a member of the panel and a senior from Warrensburg Junior/Senior High School, talked about the impact the GEA and other budget cuts have had on her school.

“Having to make these budget cuts and to cut teaching positions is unacceptable,” Lanfear said. “It’s frustrating for all of us, and it’s frustrating for me not to get a complete education.”

That frustration was shared by each member of the panel in turn. Kristine Duffy, president of SUNY Adirondack, said schools need to do a better job of preparing students for their post-high-school lives, but budget constraints — such as those created by the GEA — are undercutting that need.

“What concerns me is seeing schools have to make choices to cut early-college exposure,” she said, adding that half of the students who enter community college in New York state need some remedial classes.

The panel, moderated by award-winning broadcast journalist Susan Arbetter, host of the Capitol Pressroom, also included Cindy Bartlett-Murray, social studies teacher at Queensbury Middle School; Nicole Clarke, a parent from Galway Central School District; and Peggy Murphy, director of human resources, facility security officer and corporate secretary for Espey Mfg. & Electronics Corp. in Saratoga Springs.

“Just about every school district in our region has reduced programming, or will need to” as a result of the GEA, WSWHE BOCES District Superintendent James Dexter told the packed auditorium. Yet, he was also encouraging. “If everyone can just do one piece of advocacy and get someone else to do one more, we can make a difference.”

He urged supporters to tweet messages to the governor, advocating changes using the hashtag #StandUp4Upstate.

To do your part, tweet the message “I #StandUp4Upstate children! Let’s work together to end the GEA, @NYGovCuomo” or some other message urging lawmakers to fix the state’s educational funding.


UPDATE: No aid increase for next two years unless Legislature approves Cuomo’s proposal

According to language in Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget bill, if the Legislature does not enact the education reforms the Governor outlined in his budget address on Wednesday, Jan. 21, districts will not receive any aid greater than their 2014-15 amount for each of the next two years.

Complicating matters for districts, the Division of Budget announced that it would not be releasing school aid runs until the Legislature passes the Governor’s education reform agenda. The aid runs are usually released within hours of the Governor’s budget presentation.

The reforms Cuomo proposed include an overhaul of the existing teacher evaluation law, more stringent tenure requirements, funding to expand preschool programs, lifting the cap on charter schools, and a new turnaround process for the state’s lowest performing schools.

In all, the $1.1 billion school aid increase includes just more than $1 billion in new school aid, $25 million for expanded preschool programs, and $25 million for other education reforms.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

Cuomo calls for $1.1 billion school aid increase and education reforms, no mention of GEA

cuomo_nysooUnder the Executive Budget Proposal outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo yesterday, state funding for schools would increase by $1.1 billion next year – provided that state lawmakers go along with a series of education reforms that he described as “ambitious” in his combined budget address and State of the State message.

The reforms Cuomo proposed include an overhaul of the existing teacher evaluation law, more stringent tenure requirements, funding to expand preschool programs, lifting the cap on charter schools, and a new turnaround process for the state’s lowest performing schools.

An additional $1.1 billion in state aid next year would represent a 4.8 percent increase over the current year. The Governor did not detail how the money would be distributed, and district-by-district breakdowns are not yet available.

The Governor also did not address the Gap Elimination Adjustment, or GEA, which is the mechanism through which the state has diverted promised school funding over the last five years to meet other budget priorities. In that time, schools have lost more than $9.52 billion cumulatively to the GEA, and they are still owed $1.04 billion.

The overall proposed increase in aid falls short of the $2 billion or more that the New York State Board of Regents and leading education groups have called for to meet the needs of students next year.

The Governor is also proposing to make permanent the state’s property tax levy cap, which is set to expire after this current year, as well as a new “circuit breaker” tax reduction program. This would reduce property taxes for some homeowners and renters based on income and the amount of their tax bills.

If the Legislature does not enact the reforms Cuomo outlined, he said that the increase in school aid next year would drop to $377 million.

The series of education reforms Cuomo called for included changes to how districts evaluate teachers and principals. Under the existing process, evaluation scores consist of essentially three components: classroom observations, growth on state test scores and locally-selected learning targets, and additional measures of student achievement. Scores on these components result in a rating of highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.

“They’re baloney,” Cuomo said of the current evaluations. “How can 38 percent of students be ready and 98 percent of the teachers rated effective? The problem is clear. We need real, fair, accurate teacher evaluations.”

In his speech, the Governor outlined a plan that would change the evaluation process so that 50 percent of scores are based on state exams and the other 50 percent on observations. While many other details of this plan are still unknown, Gov. Cuomo did say that the elements of the scoring system for teacher observations would be set in state law, rather than locally negotiated as they are now.

Cuomo also said that teachers would have to be rated highly effective or effective in both areas to receive an overall rating of highly effective or effective, and that this process would eliminate much of the local testing taking place in school districts under the existing evaluation process.

“We will stop local score inflation, which has resulted in virtually all teachers being rated effective by setting,” he said.

Under Cuomo’s plan, a teacher who has two consecutive “ineffective” ratings would be removed from their teaching position.

The budget proposal includes funding to continue rewarding teachers with annual stipends who are deemed highly effective and who mentor their peers. The Governor would also create a teacher-in-residency program akin to what is provided for doctors and offer free tuition to top SUNY/CUNY graduates who commit to teaching in New York schools for five years.

The Governor’s proposal also continues to provide grants for the “P-Tech” Pathways in Technology and Early College High School program, which connects high school to two years of college in the STEM fields.

Cuomo outlined a plan to address what he called “failing schools” that would allow a nonprofit, turnaround expert or another district to take over a school after three years of poor results. This entity would be charged with overhauling the curriculum, terminating underperforming staff and recruiting high-performing educators. These schools would be given priority in a variety of state grant programs, and the students would be given priority in charter school lotteries.

The Governor proposed combining the charter school caps for New York City and the rest of the state into one statewide cap and increasing it by 100 new charter schools, for a total cap of 560. Under the existing caps, there are 24 slots left for new charter schools in New York City and 159 slots available statewide. The governor also proposed legislation to ensure that charter schools serve “their fair share” of high-needs populations in relation to public schools, including English language learners, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities.

Cuomo also proposed an additional $365 million in spending for universal prekindergarten, in line with the plan approved last year to phase $1.5 billion in over five years to expand prekindergarten access statewide. He also called for $25 million for new preschool programs for 3-year-olds in the state’s highest-need school districts.

In all, the $1.1 billion school aid increase includes just more than $1 billion in new school aid, $25 million for the preschool initiative, and $25 million for other education reforms.

The Executive Budget Proposal now heads to the state legislature for consideration. A final state budget is expected by April 1, 2015.

Click here to download the Governor’s 2015-16 Budget Briefing Book [PDF]

Gov. Cuomo to unveil ‘Opportunity Agenda’ today

Gov. Cuomo will be presenting his 2015-16 budget with the 2015 State of the State Address in a joint roll out being called the ‘2015 New York State of Opportunity Agenda’ this afternoon.

Over the past few weeks, Cuomo has been laying the groundwork for an aggressive education agenda, repeating numerous times that better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving and entrenched public education system.

“I believe these kinds of changes are probably the single best thing that I can do as governor that’s going to matter long-term to break what is in essence one of the only remaining public monopolies — and that’s what this is, it’s a public monopoly,” Cuomo said in October.

Cuomo believes that the current evaluation system for teachers is too easy to pass. Cuomo said he would push for a plan that includes more incentives and sanctions that “make it a more rigorous evaluation system.”

“The teachers don’t want to do the evaluations and they don’t want to do rigorous evaluations — I get it. I feel exactly opposite.”

According to the New York Times, Cuomo’s office has declined to comment on his education agenda or disclose what proposals he will make today.

Mr. Cuomo is likely to face resistance to some of his priorities from the Democratic-led Assembly, which tends to side with the teachers’ union, while getting support from the Republican-led Senate.

 – NY Times, ‘Cuomo’s Education Agenda Sets Battle Lines With Teachers’ Unions’, Jan. 20, 2015.

The 2015 New York State of Opportunity Agenda will be presented at 1:30 p.m. in the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany. Ed Speaks will be live-tweeting the Governor’s address this afternoon. Follow along, @edspeaksNY.

Upstate schools to hold advocacy event Jan. 22, calling for funding reform

spotlight_SMSU4US logo.jpgHundreds of people from around the Upstate region are expected to be gathering Thursday, Jan. 22 at Saratoga Springs High School to voice their support of local school districts and urging legislators to join them.

The event, “Stand Up for Upstate Schools: Your Voice Can Still Make a Difference!” will feature administrators, teachers, students and parents from around the 31 school districts in the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES region who will share their personal stories of how cuts in state aid have impacted them.

“When you are talking about state and local budgets, it’s easy to get lost in the dollars,” WSWHE BOCES District Superintendent James P. Dexter said. “But when you go behind those figures, we’re talking about the quality of education we provide our children.”

Across the region, educational programs are being reduced, frozen or are in jeopardy – largely due to an inequitable state aid distribution system and the punitive Gap Elimination Adjustment. In this region alone schools have already lost $198.5 million in state aid to the GEA.

The public-school supporters gathering in Saratoga Springs Jan. 22 will be urging the New York State Legislature and governor to work together in order to accomplish three primary objectives:

  • Reform the state aid distribution system to provide for more equity.
  • Eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) by the 2015-16 fiscal year.
  • Maintain the interest rate used in state building aid calculations for a capital project at the level in use by the state when the capital project was originally bonded.

Many school boards throughout the WSWHE BOCES have already adopted resolutions urging Albany lawmakers to accomplish the priorities. Other members of the community have taken up the goals as well, advocating for the priorities in their own ways.

“Many in this community have become active advocates for our schools by attending forums, sending emails and writing letters. We’re grateful for that support,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Douglas W. Huntley, co-chair of the CSO Advocacy Standing Committee.

The event will bring a cross-section of those supporters from all of the 31 districts in the WSWHE BOCES region under the same roof as legislators and experts to discuss the future of education in New York State.

Where: Saratoga Springs High School Auditorium, 1 Blue Streak Boulevard, Saratoga Springs.
When: Refreshments will be served at 6 p.m. and the event will go from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, January 22.

Board of Regents seeks $2 billion in school aid

The New York State Board of Regents gave final approval to its 2015-16 school aid proposal calling for an increase of $2 billion in state aid, more equitable funding for high need districts and a reduction of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA).

“The Regents State Aid Proposal strikes the right balance, driving more money to school districts with the greatest student needs and addressing the Regents’ priorities,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said.

The Regents State Aid Subcommittee considered three possible methods to increase aid to schools. The first focused on Foundation Aid and leaving the GEA untouched. The second focused on full GEA restorations, which raised concerns about an approach that applied primarily to lower need districts.

The Subcommittee ultimately decided on the third approach – a blended “Transitional Operating Formula” – that features a combination of GEA restoration and new Operating Aid.

The State Aid Proposal reflects several emerging policy issues, including:

  • Support for the high quality Career and Technical Education programming that will create new opportunities under the Multiple Pathways initiative;
  • A more coordinated early childhood system that enhances access to high-quality education programs statewide;
  • Improved services for English Language Learners (ELLs); Support for the education of recent immigrants;
  • The need to invest in new instructional materials that reflect college and career ready standards;
  • Professional development for teachers that relies on teacher leaders with proven classroom success to serve as coaches and mentors for their colleagues; and
  • Encouraging regionalization efforts where appropriate.

The state also has a nearly $5 billion surplus due to a one-time legal settlement that the committee recommends using a portion on increasing upstate schools’ access to prekindergarten programs.

The Regents also call for investing capital funds in BOCES Career and Technical Education Centers in order to support the Multiple Pathways initiative.

“School districts across the State will continue to operate within a constrained fiscal environment this year,” Chair of the Regents State Aid Subcommittee James R. Tallon, Jr. said. “At the same time, however, these same districts will continue their efforts to implement more rigorous learning standards in their classrooms. The Regents State Aid proposal offers a balanced approach that will give districts the resources they need to successfully take on these new and existing challenges.”

Governor Cuomo will release his budget proposal in January.

Smart Schools Bond Act passes, Cuomo re-elected

Voters approved the Smart Schools Bond Act on Tuesday, which will provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements. The proposition passed with 62 percent of the vote.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also won re-election, garnering 54 percent of the vote, making him the first Democratic governor to win re-election in New York since is father, Mario Cuomo, won in 1990.

Cuomo first proposed his Smart Schools Act in January during State of the State address. The money that school districts will receive for technology upgrades will be determined by a formula tied directly to the state aid that each district receives. The money must be spent on equipment laptops, desktops, tablets, infrastructure upgrades and high speed broadband.

The money would also be eligible for the building or renovation of pre-kindergarten classrooms, high-tech school security features or to replace classroom trailers in overcrowded schools.

“The next step now in our journey is to reinvent our classrooms with new technology,” Cuomo has said. “We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow.”

The bond act was met with some skepticism by some, who cited fiscal and more long term concerns.

“They’re assuming a box full of iPads that some school buys next year are still going to be useful and not obsolete in 2022,” president of the Empire Center E.J. McMahon said. “Nobody believes that.”

“The interest the state would pay annually on $2 billion, approximately $150 million, could have been used to increase current aid to schools for software and hardware purchases,” executive director of the State Association of School Business Officials Michael Borges said.

School districts will now have to submit technology plans to the state on how they will spend their share of the money.

Get out and vote today

Ballot being slipped into voting boxAfter months of political attack ads, debates and candidate promises, Election Day is here.

When New York voters head to the polls today, in addition to candidates for office, they will decide on a $2 billion Smart Schools bond referendum that, if approved, would provide each school district with funding for new educational technology and infrastructure improvements that could also include classroom space for prekindergarten programs.

Each school district would receive an allocation of the $2 billion Smart Schools that is proportionate to the district’s share of total formula based school aid in the 2013-14 school year, excluding Building Aid, Universal Prekindergarten Aid, and the Gap Elimination Adjustment. For example, if a district receives 2.0% of total State school aid, the school district’s Smart Schools allocation would be $40 million (.02 * $2,000,000,000). You can click here for a calculator of how much your school district would be eligible to receive.

If you haven’t educated yourself on the issues, take the time to do so. An educated voter is a democracy’s best citizen. We here at Ed Speaks encourage you to vote and exercise your civic duty. People tend to forego voting in the midterm elections. Let’s change that today. Polls are open until 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Cuomo hears from critics over ‘monopolies’ comment

Governor Cuomo at table with daughter working on homeworkEarlier this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed to break up “one of the only remaining public monopolies”, and push for a new round of teacher evaluations.

Cuomo also said that better teachers and competition from charter schools are the best ways to revamp an underachieving public school system.

Now his critics are firing back.

The Working Families Party, the Alliance for Quality Education, and the two candidates vying for the gubernatorial nod with Cuomo – Republican candidate Rob Astorino and Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins – all took their shots at the Governor.

Working Families Party Response

“Gov. Cuomo is wrong on this one. His proposed policies on public education will weaken, not strengthen our public education system, and they would represent a step away from the principle of high quality public education for all students. High stakes testing and competition are not the answer. Investment in the future is the answer, and that means progressive taxation and adequate resources for our schools.

We endorsed the governor because of his commitments to raise the minimum wage, fight for public financing of elections, the full Women’s Equality Act, the DREAM Act, and decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. But we’ll never hesitate to criticize him when he’s wrong, as he is on this issue. A vote on the WFP line for Governor is a vote to get those crucial progressive policies passed and to strengthen the WFP.”

The Alliance for Quality Education Response

The Alliance for Quality Education’s designated Champions of Education in the New York State Senate, Assembly and New York City Council joined in the chorus of community and school superintendent responses to Gov. Cuomo’s vow on Tuesday to break the public schools “monopolies” and replace them with more privately-run charter schools.

“I find it unacceptable that Governor Cuomo would further disempower and denigrate our public schools,” said State Senator Bill Perkins. “Saying that there should be more competition among schools—to break a so-called public monopoly—is his way of imposing heedless private business practices on these august institutions that have served our citizens well for more than a century. Furthermore, charter schools perpetuate a system of educational inequality and have ushered in a new generation of separate but unequal outcomes in education. Governor Cuomo’s own words—sadly, lead us to believe that profit and privatization is more important to him than serving every child in the state with excellence.”

“It is troubling to read that the Governor, just days before the election, is blaming teachers again, and is now slamming the ‘public’ in public education in favor of increased privatization via charter schools,” Assembly member Patricia Fahy said. “By definition, public schools serve all children, including all those who cycle in and out of charter and other private schools. While accountability is essential among all teachers and in all schools, slamming a bedrock institution of our state and country – public education – while ignoring so many root causes of school failure – is simplistic at best and not constructive to moving the needle on improving education opportunities for all.”

“The Governor’s recent comments about the state of education and calling it a ‘public Monopoly’ has me gravely concern,” said Assembly member Walter Mosley. “Education is a public good, not a public monopoly. It must be treated as such, regardless of one’s family income or status, public education must be treated with a proper level of respect and regard to the general welfare of our society.”

“As a father and grandfather whose children have attended our public schools, investment in public education and support for public schools is critical. This is not the time to attack public schools but to strengthen them,” said Assembly member Felix W. Ortiz. “I pledge to fight for more state aid to public schools next year. Our future is at stake.”

“I am not surprised that Governor Cuomo supports attempts to privatize schools to benefit hedge fund billionaires,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. “These Wall Street fat cats may raise him the most money but public education isn’t a business. If Governor Cuomo actually spent time in the NYC public schools, he would learn that there is no independent assessment that says that charter schools perform better than public schools. He should do something constructive for public education for a change. He should demand that charter schools are held accountable. He should stop charter schools from evading public oversight despite receiving millions in taxpayer money. He should stop charter schools from failing to properly educate English language learners and special education students. And he should seek to end problematic conflicts of interest between charter school board members and business interests.”

Rob Astorino’s Response

“New York public school teachers deserve respect for their day-in-and-day-out dedication to our children. I know, I have three young children in public schools; I went to public schools, and I served as an elected public school board member. My wife Sheila is a special ed teacher.

Mr. Cuomo’s adversarial stance toward teachers borders on disdain. I simply cannot understand it. All I can say is that, as governor, I will treat you, as teachers, with the respect you deserve as educational professionals, and with which I treat all public servants. We may not always agree on everything, but our goals will remain the same:

Strengthening New York’s public school system to better prepare the children we love for the future.

I am deeply committed to public schools in New York, as is my running mate Sheriff Chris Moss. Public schools are in my blood. I am also a card carrying union member, so I understand the need for and benefits of collective bargaining.

I have heard your concerns over charter schools, and I agree that accountability within them is a must. I have supported charter schools in New York’s inner cities, but I recognize that better public schools must ultimately be the answer to New York’s education challenges.

Governor Cuomo has taken millions of dollars from charter school backers and has no interest in accountability.

As a parent, first and foremost, I am committed to getting rid of Common Core in New York, and as governor, I will pull New York from the program. No K-12 teachers were involved in writing the developmentally inappropriate experimental standards; they were conceived in secrecy and never tested, and the math and English content experts on the validation committee both refused to endorse the standards saying they were of “poor quality.” We’ll replace it with better standards set by New York education experts with input from teachers and parents. And through the same approach, we’ll develop proper assessments for our students, teachers, and schools, of which testing will only be one piece of the puzzle. Our teachers are not test-giving automatons and our children are not guinea pigs. Each deserve better, and they’ll get it under my administration.

I have twice been elected by wide margins in a 2-1 Democratic county. That happened because I am willing to listen and to reach out to everyone, in a respectful manner, to find common solutions. I stand on principle, but I also understand that compromise and good will are how we move forward together as a society.

I would be honored to have your support on Tuesday. I promise you’ll have a respectful governor in me, willing to work with you honestly and constructively to protect and better New York’s public schools.”

Howie Hawkins’ Response

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, said that Cuomo’s recent description of schools as the “last public monopoly” is just the latest episode in his ongoing attacks on public education and teachers.

“Andrew Cuomo is turning New York’s schools into the Hunger Games. Andrew Cuomo pushes a game of competitive grants, charter schools, and high-stakes testing. This type of competition leaves a lot of losers. If the Governor wants to break a monopoly, he should break Pearson’s monopoly on testing.”

“What is Cuomo going to attack after he breaks the schools and teachers? Break up the police and fire departments? Have competing companies to deliver drinking water?” asked Hawkins.

Hawkins noted that under Cuomo funding for education has fallen to the lowest percentage of the state budget in 65 years, with a $9 billion cumulative shortfall from what the courts have ordered. He has also enacted tax caps to undermine the ability of local schools districts to make up for the state’s funding shortfall.

Cuomo has also led a drive to privatize the schools, favoring charter schools and promoting high stakes testing, both of which increase profits for his campaign contributors. Last week he vowed to challenge public school teachers by supporting stricter teacher evaluations and competition from charter schools.

“A governor who treats public education as some corporate entity, who shows no support for public education doesn’t deserve a second term. The remarks made clear that Cuomo is an enemy of our public education system. And that he wants to break it,” added Hawkins.

Hawkins said that Cuomo’s recent statement was part of a pattern of increasingly erratic behavior by Cuomo in the closing days of the campaign, starting with his mishandling of the Ebola epidemic. Cuomo earlier today dismissed the Moreland Commission scandal as “political baloney.”

“One has to wonder why a party like the WFP wants you to vote for a candidate that attacks workers and education, opposes making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, waffles on fracking, does photo ops in war zones during his campaign, and doesn’t support universal single payer health care,” commented Hawkins.

Hawkins has been endorsed by a wide range of teachers union and educators, include Diane Ravitch; Nassau County’s East Williston Teachers’ Association; northern Westchester County’s Lakeland Federation of Teachers; Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association, Valley Central Teachers Association, Buffalo Teachers Federation, The Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers.; New York Badass Teacher Association, United Opt Out Independent Community of Educators, Independent Commission on Public Education (ICOPE), and Coalition for Public Education.