Report: State Still Owes Schools a Lot of Money

The state still owes schools $4.9 Billion as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity agreement.

That’s what a report out, Thursday, from the Alliance for Quality Education says. More than half of that – $2.5 Billion – is owed to New York City schools alone, dividing out to $2,667 per student.

The report details how much money (down to the dollar) is owed to schools in each Assembly and Senate district. AQE says it’s the first report of its kind to do this.

At the top of the list for the lower chamber is Assemblyman Philip Ramos from Long Island. Schools in his districts are reportedly owed $142,696,012. No, I did not misplace a comma. That is 142 million dollars.

The lowest number on that list is in Assemblyman David Buchwald’s district. Schools there are owed $11,942,233 according to the report. Buchwald’s district encompasses parts of Westchester County, which, admittedly does have higher property taxes than the rest of the state.

In the Senate, it’s much the same. Senator Phil Boyle’s district tops the list of dollars owed at $160,841,528. Boyle’s district is from the same area of Long Island, surrounding the Town of Islip.

Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson has the lowest number at $18,368,235. Her district lies in the Bronx.

The group is asking for the state to uphold its part of the bargain in the CFE case. Republicans in the State Senate have suggested cutting the Gap Elimination Adjustment to compensate for some of the lost aid, but advocates say that wouldn’t go far enough.

“For the vast majority of school districts and particularly for high-need school districts … the foundation aid is much more beneficial,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “A much higher proportion of what is due to those districts is foundation aid. In fact, of the GEA, only 34 percent is due to high-need districts. Of the foundation aid, 76 percent is due to high-need districts.”

Governor Cuomo’s proposing a $1.1 Billion increase in funding for the state’s education system as part of his budget. The Board of Regents (along with the Alliance for Quality Education) has said, however, that at least double of what the Governor’s proposing would be more appropriate.

Gubernatorial Delinquency Report

Senate Republicans Introduce Common Core Refusal Bill (Updated)

Two freshman Republican lawmakers this week introduced a bill that’s aimed at strengthening parents ability to have their children opt out from Common Core testing.

The measure, known as the Common Core Refusal Act, would require the state Department of Education to notify parents of their right to not have children in grades 3 through 8 participate in Common Core-based testing.

The bill was introduced by GOP Sens. Terrence Murphy and Rich Funke.

Updated: The bill is being carried by Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco in the Democratic-led chamber.

“This bill codifies that parents receive proper notification of their rights as it relates to refusing to have their children participate in these field tests,” the bill’s memorandum states. “More importantly, it protects school districts, individual schools, teachers, and students alike from facing any withholding of funds, state takeovers, sanctions, negative impact on a teacher’s evaluation or any other punitive measures associated with the outcomes related to test refusal.”

Specifically, the bill is taking aim at tests provided by Pearson, an education company that has provided Common Core-based testing and has come under scrutiny for its $32 million contract to administer the tests for the state.

The bill would require a “universal notification” posted on school district websites as well as a mailed notification to parents.

The measure would block punishment for not participating in the tests, including withholding state aid and include protections for both teachers and students.

The bill comes after a pitched election year debate over the controversial education standards in schools across the state.

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino ran on a newly formed Stop Common Core ballot line last year, which has now morphed into the Reform Party ballot line with a broadened agenda (to the consternation of anti-Common Core advocates).

Lawmakers estimate that 60,000 students last year declined to participate in Common Core-based testing.

Common Core has made for unlikely allies in New York and nationally for both conservatives who are skeptically of a nationally imposed education standard as well as teachers unions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year negotiated a bill with the statewide teachers union that would delay the impact of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations.

But Cuomo ultimately vetoed that measure as he pursues this year a more stringent teacher evaluation law.

Advocate to Senate: No Stand-Alone DREAM Act, Please

Generally speaking neither side of the DREAM Act/Education Investment Tax Credit debate is terribly thrilled to have been linked together in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget and then seen that questionable marriage further cemented by being tied to TAP funding in the 30-day amendments.

Some advocates on both sides have been calling for the two issues to be uncoupled, even though doing do would almost certainly weaken the chances of either passing before the 2015 session ends, thanks to the Senate GOP’s staunch opposition to the DREAM Act and the Assembly Democrats’ general dislike (following the teachers unions’s lead) of the tax credit.

Last week, the Assembly Democrats again passed a stand-alone version of the DREAM Act, and Speaker Carl Heastie said in no uncertain terms that he does not believe these two otherwise unrelated issues should be linked.

“That was the governor’s choice,” said Heastie, who was a past co-sponsor of the tax credit bill, but – as with all other bills – has removed his name from the measure since he rose to the speaker’s post. “The governor did that. We’re moving forward today with the Dream Act, and we hope that it will passed on its own merits in the State Senate.”

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos has called the DREAM Act a nonstarter in his house, and with good reason – politically speaking – considering the fact that a number of his new members actively campaigned against the measure during the 2014 elections and were successful at the ballot box as a result of their opposition.

Skelos, too, wants the DREAM Act and tax credit uncoupled, arguing that the tax credit, which matters a lot to a number of his members and their conservative constituencies, should be allowed to rise or fall on its own merits.

As for the DREAM Act, no matter how much supporters would like to see a “clean” bill pass, at least one member of the immigrant advocacy community recognizes the reality of the situation, which is that letting the measure come up for a vote in the Senate is likely a recipe for disaster – an all-but certain repeat of the bill’s 2014 failure.

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said last night on CapTon that while he did not disagree with the Assembly’s action on the DREAM Act, he doesn’t want the Senate to follow suit.

“Do I think it’s a good idea that it gets introduced in the Senate? I’ll be honest, No,” Choi said. “I think passing it in the Assembly was enough of a way to say: Look, we are dug in on this. It’s an important issue for us. I think it’s important as a signal to send out before the budget battle begins.”

Choi said the DREAM Act community is counting on the governor to deliver on his promise that the DREAM Act will become a reality this year, and will be deeply disappointed if that does not occur.

“Folks really lined up behind the governor,” in the 2014 election, Choi said. “Our message to him has been: Stay on target. Don’t deviate off course.”

Flanagan: $1.1 Billion Education Hike ‘The Floor’

For Gov. Andrew Cuomo, $1.1 billion is the ceiling on increasing state education spending in this year’s $142 billion budget proposal.

But Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan in a radio interview Monday called Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s high-end increase figure “the floor.”

Cuomo is tying much of the increase to approval of his education policy changes in this year’s budget, including a new teacher evaluation system, addressing failing schools by having them taken over by a state monitory and a strengthening of charter schools.

Without the passage of those measures, education spending would be hiked by $340 million.

“Tying everything together… or there’s no money, I don’t think that’s going work,” Flanagan, a Suffolk County Republican, said on The Capitol Pressroom.

The state Board of Regents, a semi-independent entity charged with setting education policy in the state, last year set its funding aspirations at $2 billion, twice as much as what Cuomo has proposed with policy measures approved.

“We look at $1.1 billion and say, ‘that’s a floor,”” Flanagan said.

As he has in recent weeks, the lawmaker added that Cuomo won’t be able to get everything he wants on education, even as the governor plays hardball by including them in his budget proposal.

“You can’t throw 20 things out there and say ‘I want everything’. Life doesn’t work that way,” Flanagan said.

A top priority for Senate Republicans this year has been completely eliminating the gap elimination adjustment through the budget, a move Flanagan said there’s “no question” he wants to see happen.

Adding more spending to the education portion of the budget — typically the most costly in New York’s spending plan save for Medicaid — is a perennial concern for state lawmakers, especially those from suburban school districts.

“This is my 29th year in the legislature and I don’t care who the Governor is, we always add,” Flanagan said.

Teachers Union Leaders Question Charter School Rally

The statewide teachers union on Monday criticized Success Academy Charter Schools for planning to close on Wednesday in anticipation of a massive pro-charter rally in Albany.

In a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Board of Regents Chancellor Merry Tisch and Acting Education Commissioner Elizabeth Berlin, New York State United Teachers Karen Magee and Vice President Andy Pallotta questioned the plan to close the schools in order to hold what amounts to a political demonstration at the Capitol.

The charter school organization held a similarly large rally last year and closed its schools in order to bring students and parents to the rally.

“New York State United Teachers is seeking your views on several important questions raised by the upcoming Success Academy event. As a matter of policy, should Success Academy Charter Schools, Inc., as taxpayer-funded public schools, be permitted to close their doors and transport students, parents and staff to Albany for a rally? Even if they use substantial private funds, is this the “right thing for students?”

The union leaders also wondered whether they would be similarly criticized if public school districts closed “en masse” for an advocacy day at the Capitol.

“If school boards and superintendents in the state’s nearly 700 school districts also wish to close en masse for a day and transport thousands of their students, parents and staff to Albany to lobby for additional state funding, would that be permissible? Would you consider closing traditional public schools for a rally to be good public policy and the ” right thing” for all students?”

The letter is the latest salvo in the battle over education policy in the state.

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget would increase education spending by as much as $1.1 billion, but much of that funding increase is tied to enacting a number of policy changes ranging from a more stringent teacher evaluation law and a strengthening of the state’s charter schools.

The teachers unions have sought to frame Cuomo’s push as being “anti-teacher” by pursuing those policies, while the governor points to merit bonuses for especially high-performing teachers.

lettertogovcuomochantischandactingcommberlin by Nick Reisman

In Report, Cuomo Points To Failing Schools

More than 109,000 students in New York are enrolled in one of the 178 schools deemed to be failing, according to a report from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

The report comes as Cuomo tries to make it easier for the state to take over troubled schools through his $142 billion budget proposal.

A school is considered failing based on being in the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide based on the combined English-Language Arts and math scores while not showing progress in test performance or have had graduation rates below 60 percent of the last three years.

Of the 178 schools on the failing list, 77 have held that designation for the last 10 years, with a quarter million students passing through the schools.

The broad majority of these schools — 9 out of 10 — are heavily minority or poor.

Cuomo is pushing a plan based on a Massachusetts law that would put a failing school into the hands of either a non-profit, another district or an appointed turnaround expert.

The full report can be found here.

NYSFailingSchoolsReport (1).pdf by Nick Reisman

NYSUT Knocks ‘Clueless’ Cuomo On Teacher Evals

The president of the statewide teachers union on Monday pushed back against claims made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office critical of an evaluation process that rated teachers on Long Island as either “effective” or “highly effective.”

The latest tiff in the ongoing war of words between the governor and the New York State United Teachers began with a letter from a top Cuomo deputy that was critical of the existing evaluation process.

In short, the Cuomo administration is skeptical that so many teachers were rated highly after the union provided some input on the evaluation criteria.

But NYSUT President Karen Magee said the letter shows that the “only thing skewed here is the governor’s logic.”

“Each teacher evaluation plan uses multiple measures and was reviewed and approved by the State Education Department. Many were sent back for required changes. The department lists the NYSUT-suggested scoring rubric on EngageNY as meeting its requirements for fairness and rigor,” she said, adding that it is “insane to once again scapegoat teachers.”

“If a teacher is rated ‘effective’ based on a student’s standardized test scores, ‘effective’ on locally developed measures of student achievement and ‘effective’ on the 60-point observation portion of the evaluation, that teacher should be rated ‘effective’ overall. That’s common sense.
“The governor is so enthralled with his billionaire hedge fund pals, he continues to ignore a growing body of research and what the rest of the nation — including Texas — now knows: Student test scores are not reliable, accurate or stable measures of either student achievement or teacher effectiveness. Standardized tests should be used to diagnose student learning and inform instruction. NYSUT supports evaluations that respect local control and are meaningful and fair. We will continue to stand with children, parents and communities against the governor’s harmful ‘test-and-punish’ agenda.”

In Video, StudentsFirstNY Highlights Education Rally

The education reform group StudentsFirstNY on Monday is releasing a web video that shows highlights from its rally last week.

The group is largely in step with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s push to change the state’s education policies through a strengthening of charter schools and making it easier for the state to take control of schools deemed to be failing.

The organization’s video highlights several speakers at last week’s rally, including now-former Assemblyman Karim Camara, who is joining the administration’s new faith-based outreach office.

Cuomo’s $142 billion budget includes a boost in education spending by as much as $1.1 billion, though much of that money is tied to enacting a number of the governor’s education proposals, including a more stringent teacher evaluation law.

Success Academy Registers To Lobby

From the Morning Memo:

A day after a top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo signaled plans to broadly overhaul the state’s education structure, Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz registered the organization as a lobby entity, a filing with state ethics regulators shows.

Moskowitz is a prominent figure in the charter school advocacy world and registering the group to lobby was likely done out of an abundance of caution as the coming legislative session was expected to be dominated by education issues.

The lobbying period will cover Jan. 1 of this year through the end of the current Legislature now seated, 2016.

Advocates are required to register as lobbying when they expect their activities to cost more than $5,000.

In the past, Success Academy Charter Schools have relied on several prominent lobbying shops in Albany and New York City, including Albany Strategic Advisors, Dan Klores Communications, Patricia Lynch Associates and Bender Cantone Consulting.

Cuomo, a supporter of charter schools, is pushing for an increase in per pupil tuition aid as well as an increase on the statewide cap by 100.

Cuomo’s pro-charter push has put him at odds with the state’s teachers union, which opposes his efforts to overhaul the state’s teacher evaluation system as well as delay aspects of achieving teacher tenure.

L3489 Authorization by Nick Reisman

Cuomo Admin To Regents: Study Massachusetts

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is urging top education officials to further review the “Massachusetts model” of overhauling failing schools through receivership.

Cuomo is pushing a measure this year that is similar to a law adopted in the Bay State in 2010 that allows the state to put struggling schools under a state takeover through a hybrid model.

The first school district in Massachusetts is being targeted for a takeover under that law.

In a letter from State Operations Director Jim Malatras sent this week, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is tasked with conducting “further research” on the Massachusetts education efforts.

Though the first school is going into receivership in Massachusetts under that law, Malatras says the overhaul is working.

“Given the preliminary success in Massachusetts, a similar approach could be transformative in New York,” Malatras writes. “Therefore, we would like the State Education Department to further research the Massachusetts model by performing comprehensive data and field analysis to see how and why the program is working and the specific measures that are making the model a success.”

Cuomo’s takeover proposal for struggling districts is slightly different than the approach Massachusetts adopted.

Under Cuomo’s plan, the state’s takeover of schools would lead to them becoming community schools, which would provide services such as medical and dental care.

This isn’t the first time Malatras has written to the Regents on the education issue.

In December, he called on Department of Education officials to gather recommendations for overhauling the state’s education policy writ large, dropping broad hints that the governor would seek to strengthen the state’s charter schools as well as take a hard line approach on teacher evaluations.

LetterMalatrastoTisch_0.pdf by Nick Reisman