Education Groups Call for $1.9 Billion State Aid Increase

Top education groups in the state issued a report Thursday calling for a $1.9 billion increase in state aid for the public school system. That’s up from last year’s increase of $1.1 billion, but the NYS Educational Conference Board says the state is in a good position to invest in education this year, given the $4.8 billion surplus.

The increase, if passed, would bring the total state aid for public schools in New York above $23 billion in the next fiscal year. According to the report, that increase will be used to pay for a small increase in employee salaries, rising health care costs, and a growth in the consumer price index.

But the almost $2 billion request isn’t just to pay for rising costs, it’s also to pay off aid claims from years prior. The report pins the amount currently being shorted from districts at just over $1 billion from the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

In short, the GEA has been a device used by the state to use education funding to ease some of the its own budget issues. Now that the state’s economy is more stable after the recession, education groups are also calling for an accelerated end to the GEA, saying a consistent formula for aid allocations should be put in its place.

They say part of that formula should include new pressures facing schools like the Common Core standards and the about 5,000 immigrant children now living in New York.

These are costs unrelated to what the $2 billion Smart Schools Bond Act would pay for. That amendment, passed by voters on Election Day, provides funds for schools to improve technological infrastructure.

Instead, this money would be used to maintain what schools are already doing now and “make progress on new initiatives critical to the success of our students and our state,” according to the report. The report says in order to avoid any cuts at all, there must be at least a $1.2 billion increase to begin with.

But even that number has the potential to face obstacles from a Republican controlled state senate. Regardless, education groups say they’re confident about their chances.

“We have to deal with the state budget, we deal with both the governor, we deal with the legislature,” NYS Educational Conference Board Chair John Yagielski said. “The fact that we’re all together on that I think should help in that process.”

Bob Lowry from the NYS Council of School Superintendents told reporters Thursday talks were already in the works with lawmakers, but that no concrete plan on how to sweep the proposal into the budget had been established.

The Educational Conference Board includes the Conference of Big 5 School Districts, NYS Association of School Business Officials, NYS Council of School Superintendents, NYS PTA, NYS School Boards Association, School Administrators Association, and NYSUT.

ECB Report

Voters Say “Yes” on Ballot, Now What?

At least one in every five voters did not vote on the three amendments to the state’s constitution on Tuesday’s ballot, according to official election results. The number seems unimportant at first glance until you translate one-in-five to 20 percent.

Two of the three proposals were passed with less than twenty percent of voters, meaning if the absent one-fifth had chosen to vote on those proposals, the outcome could have been much closer, or potentially different altogether.

The outcome isn’t much different than last year’s casino amendment. The proposal, to approve four casinos in three regions in New York, passed by about 393.5 thousand votes, but more than 500 thousand voters chose not to weigh in.

It should be said as well that these numbers reflect the voters who actually made it to the polls. According to the BOE, there are almost 11 million active, registered voters in New York State. Of those 11 million, only about 3.7 million went out to vote this year leaving turnout hovering around a third of registered voters.

That’s up ever so slightly from last year’s near 30 percent, but down drastically from around 60 percent in 2012.

Regardless, voters in New York have approved this year’s round of proposed ballot amendments, so what’s next for proposals one, two, and three?

Proposal One will not actually require action until after the 2020 census in New York. That census will determine the state’s population and therefore number of required State Senate and Assembly (and Congressional) districts required under state law.

Proposal One creates a 10-person redistricting commission to draw those districts. After the census, legislative leaders will appoint eight of the ten people sitting on the commission. Those eight would then appoint the last two.

Currently, the legislature draws the state’s districts. Because they will now appoint the majority of the commission’s members, critics of Prop One have said the process will be no more independent than it currently is. However, the amendment does have language in place to at least attempt to stray away from bias.

Members of the commission can not be married to a statewide or federal official, can not be a registered lobbyist in either New York or Washington, D.C., and can not have served in the state legislature in the past three years. Of course, this opens the door to former lawmakers who have been out of the state legislature for some time.

Proposal Two is much simpler. The proposal authorizes bills to be electronically sent to members of the legislature. Currently, bills must be physically printed and placed on lawmakers’ desks in order to start the three-day aging process. Now, electronic receipt of the bill will count instead.

Proposal Three allows the state to use $2 billion in bond-funded money to enhance technology in public (and non-public) school districts. The language of this bill indicates that it will take effect immediately after being approved by voters. If you’re curious about how much a certain school district is expected to get, you can find that here.

But what about non-public schools? The proposal actually acknowledges that as well, saying that school districts are required to make funding available to non-public schools in their district, depending on enrollment.

That funding, however, is capped at $250 per non-public student.

NYSUT Sues SED Over Common Core ‘Gag Order’ (Updated)

The statewide teachers union filed a federal lawsuit late Wednesday over the state Department of Education’s policy of requiring teachers to sign confidentiality agreements before scoring tests based on the Common Core standards.

The New York State United Teachers argues in the legal action that the confidentiality requirement — which the labor group says is essentially a “gag order” against teachers is unconstitutional and violates free speech rights.

NYSUT argues the SED policy prevents teachers from raising issues with state testing out of fear of reprisal.

“Teachers must be free to protect their students and speak out when they have concerns about state tests. Instead, they are under a ‘gag order’ to be silent – and that is hurting children,” said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee in a statement. “Teachers are the professionals in the classroom. Their voice is essential to robust public debate about the state testing system. If teachers believe test questions are unfair or inappropriate, they should be able to say so without fear of dismissal or losing their teaching license.”

The legal challenge comes as state education officials believe the implementation of Common Core will be rolled out much more smoothly this school year.

Teachers have raised concerns with Common Core standards and the state Legislature earlier this year adopted changes to implementation for students as well as teacher performance evaluations.

The lawsuit, filed in the North District in Albany, can be read here.

The suit was filed on the behalf of five teachers from Monroe and Columbia counties.

Updated: Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins responds.

“New York’s state testing system is among the most transparent in the country. In addition to posting the criteria used to develop, select, and review every item and every passage, we released 50 percent of this year’s 3rd – 8th grade items with explanations of the correct and incorrect answers. Schools get data on how every student performed on every question. New York State educators are involved in every step of the development process and approve every question. We also released 100 percent of the high school test items and have repeatedly requested additional funding from the legislature necessary to release virtually all 3rd-8th grade test items. Obviously, items to be used on future tests must be kept secure. We look forward to NYSUT’s vigorous support for our budget request.”

NYSUT’s Magee: Use Surplus To Help Poor Schools

The president of the New York State United Teachers union on Wednesday said she hoped the money generated from a series of major financial settlements would be directed to poor school districts.

“I would always like to see money that’s lingering out there go to education,” NYSUT President Karen Magee said on The Capitol Pressroom this morning.

The money — some $3.6 billion — will likely be one of the key budget fights heading into the fiscal year, which begins April 1.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not offered many details on what he plans to propose to do with the money, but raised the possibility of a mix of tax cuts, education spending and infrastructure investment.

His budget office has gone further, suggesting the money may be used for debt service as well.

But the call for increasing education aid, especially for poorer schools, comes as education advocates continue to argue that funding disparities between rich schools and poor schools continue.

“Anything we can do — even though as you said before it is a one-shot — it’s the kind of money we need to see especially in our poorest districts,” Magee said.

NYSUT Passes On Cuomo, Again

The statewide teachers union is poised to unveil its endorsements for the upcoming 2014 elections, and once again, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has failed to make the cut.

An endorsement list obtained by SoP after NYSUT leaders met behind closed doors yesterday outside Albany, shows the union is – as we knew, thanks to the early decision on these races – supporting both of Cuomo’s fellow Democratic statewide officials, AG Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, for re-election.

There is no endorsement in the governor’s race.

It was not immediately clear whether Cuomo had even bothered to seek NYSUT’s support, or if the union had interviewed his opponents – Republican Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and Democratic Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout.

Efforts to reach the union’s spokesman to obtain answers to these questions were unsuccessful.

NYSUT’s new president, Karen Magee, was scheduled for a CapTon interview last night, but cancelled at the last minute because the endorsement meetings went long.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that NYSUT is sitting out the governor’s race. The union did the same thing in 2010, although it did not actively oppose then-AG Cuomo when it came time to decide the AFL-CIO endorsement, which is decided by a weighted vote. (He got the nod).

Magee has made clear since she ousted former NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi this past spring that her members were unlikely to back Cuomo this time around.

It would be generous to describe the relationship between NYSUT and Cuomo as “rocky.” The two have clashed numerous times over everything from the property tax cap and pension reform to teacher evaluations and the Common Core curriculum.

The union is also issuing a slew of legislative endorsements, backing mostly – but not entirely – Democratic Senate and Assembly candidates.

NYSUT chose sides in some, but not all, of the contested Senate races as the Democrats and Republicans battle it out (yet again) for control of the chamber.

However, there are a number of races on Long Island where NYSUT is sitting things out at the moment.

For example, the union did not pick a favorite in the 7th SD race where GOP Sen. Jack Martins is battling Democrat Adam Haber.

It did back Democratic environmental advocate Adrienne Esposito over Republican Islip Supervisor Tom Croci, who was tapped to run when Town Board Member Anthony Senft quit the race in the 2nd SD (Sen. Lee Zeldin is running for Congress).

NYSUT is holding out on a number of incumbent Republican senators. It did not back a candidate in the 4th SD where GOP Sen. Phil Boyle is seeking re-election, or the 6th, where GOP Sen. Kemp Hannon is running againn.

The union notably remained mum on Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, who is running for another term in the 9th SD.

NYSUT is backing all the IDC members save one: Queens Sen. Tony Avella (11th SD), who is facing a strong primary challenge from former NYC Councilman John Liu. Liu has garnered labor support even though the unions are supposedly all in for the IDC-regular Democrat reunification effort.
The union made no endorsement in the 17th SD, represented by Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who sits with the GOP; or in the 19th SD, where embattled former Democratic Senate Leader John Sampson is fighting for his political life in the September primary; or in the 32nd SD, represented by conservative Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr.

In other contested races, NYSUT supported Democratic candidates including:

Former NYC Councilman Leory Comrie against scandal-scarred Queens Sen. Malcom Smith (this is a primary); Bronx Sen. Gustavo Rivera over NYC Councilman Fernando Cabrera (also a primary); Dave Denenberg for the seat of former Long Island GOP Sen. Chuck Fuschillo; Democrat Justin Wagner for the seat of retiring Hudson Valley GOP Sen. Greg Ball; Sen. Terry Gipson, who faces a challenge from GOP Dutchess County Legislator Sue Serino; and Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, who is trying to fend off a second challenge from former GOP Assemblyman George Amedore; Sen. Ted O’Brien, fighting a challenge from Republican former Rochester TV anchor Rich Funke; teacher Elaine Altman, who is challenging GOP Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer; and attorney Marc Panepinto, who is trying to unseat GOP Sen. Mark Grisanti.

GOP Sen. Tom Libous made the cut with NYSUT, despite his health and legal troubles. He’s being challenged by former Democratic Vestal Town Supervisor Anndrea Starzak.

For the seat being left vacant by retiring GOP Sen. George Maziarz, NYSUT is backing Republican-turned-Democrat Johnny Destino. It also is supporting Sen. Tim Kennedy over his Democratic primary challenger, Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

Stop Common Core Effort a Boon for GOP

Gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino and his fellow members of the GOP statewide slate will be announcing the results of their very successful petition drive to create the independent “Stop Common Core” ballot line for the November general election.

At 9 a.m., the Republicans plan to file more than 62,000 signatures at the state Board of Elections in Albany.

Astorino, his running mate, Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss; Onondaga County Comptroller Bob Antonacci, the GOP state comptroller candidate; and state attorney general candidate John Cahill will then be making public appearances across the state to discuss the filing.

(Moss and Antonacci will be in Syracuse, while Astorino and Cahill will be on Long Island; details of these events appear below).

The Stop Common Core ballot operation was organized by veteran GOP political operative Vince Casale and Astorino’s campaign manager, Michael Lawler.

The Republicans believe this is the largest petition operation in New York history, surpassing the Working Families Party’s 1998 filing, which organizers said included some 60,000 signatures.

In 1994, then-state Sen. George Pataki’s campaign filed about 54,000 signatures to create the “Tax Cut Now” party.

The Stop Common Core operation will qualify in all 27 congressional districts, organizers said. State Election Law requires a minimum of 100 signatures from a majority of districts.

According to Casale, this effort brought together volunteers from across the state – Democrats, Republicans and independents; teachers, students and parents – all united in their opposition to the controversial new standards.

The issue certainly resonates with voters. Yesterday’s Siena poll found 49 percent of New York voters – including 53 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans – believe the Common Core standards should be stopped, which is something Astorino has pledged to do if he’s elected.

Cuomo has sought to distance himself somewhat from the Common Core, taking action this past legislative session to temporarily shield students’ test scores and teacher performance evaluations from being impacted by the state Education Department’s flawed rollout of the standards.

But the governor continues to support Common Core as a concept.

Today is the first day to file independent petitions; Tuesday, Aug. 19 is the deadline. Several thousand more Stop Common Core signatures are expected to be filed by that deadline by Senate and Assembly candidates who also want the additional line.

The GOP isn’t alone in its effort to create an independent line for its candidates to run on in November.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats are doing with the same thing with the “Women’s Equality Party” – an effort to harness the power of the abortion-rights debate, which served President Obama so well in his 2012 re-election campaign.

It just so happens that Cuomo’s running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, is holding the latest in a series of events on the Women’s Equality Party today. She’ll be appearing in Kingston with Democratic state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk.

Gibson: ‘Common Sense, Not Common Core’

Rep. Chris Gibson may have taken a pass on running on the “Stop Common Core” ballot line being created by GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, but he’s doubling down on his opposition to the controversial curriculum with a new web video that touts a “common sense” approach to education reform.

The video, which the Republican congressman released earlier today, is light on details. It features Jennifer Pelesz, a parent from Valatie, who touts the fact that the congressman lives locally and understands her concerns about Common Core, and Gibson’s wife, Mary Jo, who says that testing kids as a means to evaluate teachers’ performance is “not an effective way to really evaluate.”

“As a parent of three children attending our local public school, I understand firsthand the necessity of ensuring local teachers and parents have input in our education system,” Congressman Gibson said in a statement. “Washington mandates, excessive standardized testing and New York State’s implementation of Common Core have significantly hurt the education of our students. I am proud to lead efforts in the United States Congress to reduce unnecessary standardized testing and will continue to fight to increase the influence local administrators, teachers, and parents have on their child’s education.”

Common Core has been largely a state-level issue, but Gibson has been voicing opposition to the standards – and to what he believes is over-testing of public school students – for some time.

Gibson is facing a challenge from Democratic political newcomer Sean Eldridge. In the most recent fundraising quarter, Gibson out-raised his opponent, who is relying heavily on his personal wealth to fuel his campaign.

Filing For The Anti-Common Core Line

From the morning memo, ICYMI:

Count Sue Serino in for the ballot line opposing the Common Core education standards.

Serino, a Republican running for the Hudson Valley district held by Democratic Sen. Terry Gipson, yesterday afternoon announced she would circulate petitions for the ballot line, Stop Common Core.

“We need to get government out of the classroom, and turn to our teachers and education stakeholders for guidance on how to improve the education system in New York,” Serino said in a statement. “Our children’s education is far too important to leave up to bureaucrats concerned with manufactured numbers, rather than our community’s needs. I will be petitioning to get on the StopCommonCore line to stand up for teachers, parents, and students who feel as though they have been failed by Albany. I’m inviting mothers, fathers, students, teachers and more to volunteer their time to ensure we are able to vote on this important issue in November.”

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino announced the formation of the line last week as a way for voters to air their opposition to the controversial standards.

State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year approved delayed implementation of certain aspects of the standards for students and later for teacher evaluations.

Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican running for re-election in the overlapping House district, has indicated he won’t seek the line, citing “legal” concerns.

Gibson Forgoes ‘Stop Common Core’ Line

…and Item III from the Morning Memo:

Rep. Chris Gibson, who is in the DCCC’s crosshairs again this fall, has been outspoken in his criticism of the controversial Common Core curriculum.

But don’t look for the Republican congressman to be joining up with the state GOP’s effort to create a “Stop Common Core” ballot line anytime soon.

In an email to supporters over the weekend, Gibson’s campaign manager Kevin Crumb announced the congressman had decided not to pursue the independent line “after consultation with our attorneys.”

“Our attorneys advised us that we will face significant legal hurdles as federal candidates,” Crumb wrote.

“First, case law is unclear regarding who is legally able to carry/witness petitions for us. Second, having already secured three ballot lines, we would have faced a challenge over our right to create another line.”

“Our volunteers will continue to carry petitions for state candidates because their legal case is much stronger and because this is such a meaningful issue at the local, state, and federal level,” Crumb continued. “This will remain a team effort to help us all win in November.”

Gibson already has the Republican, Conservative and Independence Party lines. He faces a challenge from Sean Eldridge, who is running on the Democratic and Working Families Party lines.

Tenure Track

Also from the Morning Memo:

Michael Rebell, a veteran education advocate, expressed doubt during an interview on CapTon last night that an effort to duplicate the results of a California lawsuit that overturned teacher tenure laws in that state will be equally successful here in New York.

Rebell said he’s not even sure this issue is one the courts should be addressing.

“On the one hand, the law – at least the way it’s getting enforced – does keep certain people who are not effective teachers on the job,” he explained.

“On the other hand, I think it’s a positive in terms of recruitment, job stability for teachers – and let’s face it, teaching is still a relatively low paid job. So it may be if you eliminated tenure, we would be worse off because we’d be recruiting fewer capable teachers.”

“I don’t know the answer to any of this,” Rebell continued. “And unfortunately this judge in California really didn’t either, because I don’t think he really examined all sides of the issue.”

“Kids do have a right to effective teachers, but what the best way to get that is a very complex question.”

Rebell was co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case, which successfully maintained that New York was shortchanging New York City public school kids when it came to providing enough funding to assure their constitutional right to a sound, basic education.

Now, Rebell is suing the state yet again over inequity in education funding – this time as executive director of a new organization called the Campaign for Educational Equity.

Former CNN anchor-turned-education reform activist Campbell Brown recently announced that her organization is providing support to six families in New York who plan to challenge teacher tenure laws in court.

Rebell said he finds it ironic that Brown and others – many of whom have accused judges of “activism” when they rule in favor of fiscal equity cases – are now involved in lawsuits that ask the court to be “much more involved in educational policy than I have ever asked for.”