Education

Elia Pledges Continued Oversight Of East Ramapo

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia pledged in a radio interview on Monday continued oversight of the troubled East Ramapo school district, saying she plans to be in one of the district’s schools on the first day of the fall term.

“We have plans in place,” she said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “I was certainly involved last year as Mr. Wolcott and his team worked and I intend to continue to be so.”

The school year in East Ramapo is starting with a new state oversight monitor, Charles Szuberla, a retired deputy commissioner, who replaces Dennis Wolcott. A report from Szuberla is expected by the start of the new year, Elia said.

“We’re working through all of that,” she said. “We anticipate in January, it will be about halfway, he’ll be giving us a report and we’re going to share that with the Legislature and the governor’s office.”

The problems that stem from the East Ramapo troubles are myriad and complex, but essentially boil down to tensions between the orthodox Jewish community that holds power in the district and the district’s minority majority populations.

The fight over East Ramapo has extended to Albany, where lawmakers are split over giving the state monitor enhanced powers to oversee the district.

An acute display of the tensions, one school board member was not sworn in, an incident district officials insisted as a mistake.

Elia, in the interview, said she would continue to review the district’s budget as well as make sure the district was spending state funds appropriately.

“We’re going to make sure there is public oversight of the budget in East Ramapo,” she said.

‘International Search’ Begins For New SUNY Chief

The Board of Trustees at the State University of New York on Tuesday announced the launching of an international search to replace outgoing Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.

The search will be led by Board of Trustees Chairman Carl McCall.

“SUNY is not only one of New York’s greatest economic and intellectual assets, but over the last six years we have worked together to make this a national model of public higher education that our students deserve,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“As the search for a new Chancellor commences, I have every confidence that the top-level search committee assembled by Chairman McCall will identify the best candidate to continue to build on the momentum started under Chancellor Zimpher and help lead SUNY to an even brighter future.”

The search committee includes the SUNY trustees, five SUNY college and university presidents and notable alumni, including TV personality Al Roker, state operations director Jim Malatras and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

Zimpher is due to step down from the post on June 30, 2017.

Education Group Praises Testing Transparency In NY

High Achievement New York, a group that has been supportive of the Common Core standards, praised on Tuesday the state’s transparency in releasing some English Language Arts and math test questions this year.

The state Department of Education this year decided to release 75 percent of the administered test questions, along with all of the individual constructed response questions. That is more information released than in prior years, a move the group says allows parents and teachers to view students’ constructed responses and also give feedback.

The effort to release questions won praise from business leaders who have been supportive of education reform efforts.

“Transparency in testing is one of the keys to ensuring our children receive the absolute best education possible,” said Heather Briccetti, The Business Council of New York State president.

“These findings cement the fact that New York is leading the way in open testing and should serve to calm the nerves of parents and educators who have expressed concerns about higher standards. We understand and appreciate why the rollout of higher standards and associated assessments put people on edge, and we hope this report helps assuage those concerns and put us all on the same page.”

In deciding its analysis, High Achievement assessed other large states like New York in planning, the clarity of the release plans to the public, how many questions being released has increased and whether the release of the questions has been reliably consistnet.

New York, the group found is tops in the ranking when compared to states like Texas, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and Virginia.

Regents OKs Eligibility Guidelines For Community School Funding

The Board of Regents on Monday backed a package of eligibility requirements for $75 million in grants to transition struggling schools into community schools.

The approval at the Regents meeting on Monday is being billed as a first in creating a regulatory process for grant eligibility. The money for grants was included in the 2016-17 state budget.

All told, 73 schools are eligible to apply for granting funding for community school transition.

Much of what was approved in the guidelines calls for input and communication from school leaders with parents and teachers as well as community members.

Under the rules backed by the board, grant applications must include detailed plans and timelines for parent and community engagement as well as information sessions in the form of public meetings.

Schools must also provide written notices and communications for planning, implementation and the operation of community schools to parents, teachers and school personnel.

“When families can thrive, so can students and the need for community schools in areas with persistently struggling and struggling schools is severe,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa. “These are, for the most part, high-need districts where community schools become a lifeline for families. As a former community school principal myself, I know these grants will help struggling and persistently struggling schools make the transition to community schools.”

Nearly All School Budgets Approved

Virtually all of the school district budgets up for consideration by voters on Tuesday were approved, education officials announced on Wednesday morning.

The state School Boards Association reported 98.5 percent of budgets were approved. The New York State United Teachers union pegged the passage rate at 99 percent. Only 10 districts voted down their budgets.

Overall, 638 districts approved budgets.

“We are extremely pleased with the vote of confidence in our public schools by New Yorkers in every region of our state,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “The near-unanimous approval of school budgets reflects the trust, appreciation and respect that parents and community members have for the teachers and the education professionals who work tirelessly each and every day to ensure our students receive a quality education.”

The budgets were approved amid a record-low cap on property tax increases. Of the districts that approved budgets, 28 voted to surpass the limit in tax levy growth, set at nearly zero this year given the flat rate of inflation.

The average tax levy this year was 0.7 percent.

“The question is, will the state be able to sustain that commitment going forward?” state School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy Kremer said in a statement. “The tax cap may be helping to keep taxes down, but it comes at a cost to our schools, which now need the state to make up for the funding they cannot raise locally.”

Report: School Spending Rises 2.2 Percent

A report released on Monday by the New York State Association of School Business Officials shows budgetary spending is expected to increase by 2.2 percent, with a largely flat tax levy growth of 0.9 percenty.

The report released by the association comes as voters in school districts across the state are set to consider education budgets this month.

It also comes as school districts and local governments are budgeting within a tax cap with the lowest allowable limit in the levy increase since the measure first took effect in 2012.

The state levy increase stands at 0.7 percent for schools. The report considered 669 independent school districts, not the Big 5 city schools that are not required to file this information.

“School leaders, particularly school business officials, have crafted budgets that continue to incorporate efficiencies and cost saving measures, while delivering a quality educational program acceptable to the voters,” said Michael Borges, the NYSASBO executive director.

Local government and school district officials have been pushing for changes to make it easier to budget within the cap, though that is unlikely to occur this legislative session.

School districts in this year’s budget did receive a boost in foundation aid as well as a complete end to the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

“Now that the GEA is finally gone for good, state policymakers need to turn their attention to making sure the Foundation Aid formula operates as intended and drives additional resources to high need districts facing enrollment growth,” Borges said.

Tax Cap Nysasbo Ptrc 2016-1-1 PDF PDF by Nick Reisman

Opt Out Rates Fall In Urban Areas

High Achievement New York, a business-backed group that is supportive of the Common Core standards, is pointing to the “opt-in” rates of students in the state’s urban areas.

The group on Wednesday pointed to low rates of students not taking the April round of standardized tests in New York City, Buffalo, Yonkers and Syracuse.

In New York City, the opt-out rates for the tests stood last month at 2 percent. In Buffalo, the rates fell from 9.9 percent to 7.7 percent in English language arts. Opt-out rates in Math tumbled from 15 percent to 8 percent, according to City & State.

Opt-out rates in Yonkers, too, have fallen for both math and English examinations, while they’ve dropped slightly in Syracuse as well.

The decline comes after the Department of Education agreed to place a moratorium on linking Common Core-based test results to teacher evaluations. At the same time, teachers and students in general are said to have been better prepared during the new round of testing.

The opt-out movement itself has had a mixed relationship with urban educators, as The New York Times documented over the weekend, though some minorities are stepping up their criticism of the tests.

At the same time, state officials this year sought to reduce the amount of time spent testing students in the classroom amid concerns over student stress.

042616 ICYMI by Nick Reisman

Kaminsky Introduces Education Bill Scaling Back Common Core

Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat who is running for the state Senate in a special election next month, has introduced a package of measures his office says is aimed at fixing “the damage done” to schools by Common Core.

The Nassau County Democrat’s bill in many respects seeks to undo much of the education policy measures Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought over the last several years and successfully had included in last year’s budget.

The measure’s provision include a decoupling of teacher evaluations from test results, which is currently under a moratorium imposed by the Board of Regents.

Kaminsky also wants to create a committee through the Board of Regents that would research and develop an alternative method for teacher evaluations.

The bill would also repeal a Cuomo-backed provision that allows the state to place struggling or failing schools into receivership.

And Kaminsky wants to crate an alternative pathway for graduation for students who do not wish to take or are unable to pass Regents examinations.

The package of proposals for education comes as Kaminsky is engaged in a hotly contested race for the state Senate district vacated by Republican former Majority Leader Dean Skelos. A poll this month from Siena College showed Kaminsky in a virtual tie with Republican challenger Chris McGrath.

Kaminksy’s campaign has placed a heavy emphasis on his anti-corruption platform and resume, a bona fide the former federal prosecutor has played up after the conviction of Skelos in December on corruption charges.

The education bill itself was announced by Kaminsky’s Assembly office over the weekend.

“New York’s public school students and parents have endured years of unproductive, frustrating, wrongheaded attempts at improving our state’s education system,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “Instead of making our schools better, Common Core has added new barriers to a quality education by making it harder to learn, harder to teach, and burdening schools with lengthy, difficult tests that fail to adequately measure learning.”

This year, the fight in the state budget has not been over education policy changes, which Cuomo last year linked to a boost in state aid.

Instead, lawmakers are seeking increases overall in foundation aid as well as an end to the cuts from the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Updated: McGrath spokesman OB Murray responds.

“Chris McGrath is the only candidate in this race who has been against Common Core from the beginning,” Murray said. “Todd Kaminsky is a typical politician who voted to expand Common Core testing on our kids last year and now he’s just playing politics with the issue.”

StudentsFirstNY Questions SED On Struggling Schools List

After the Department of Education removed 70 schools from struggling status, an education reform group is questioning the legality of the move.

In a letter from StudentsFirstNY on Thursday, Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called on Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to restore the schools to the list.

The group bolsters its case by pointing to test scores at several schools that were removed from the receivership list.

“Removing schools that have only a handful of students achieving proficiency from the receivership list does a disservice to children,” she wrote in the letter. “The intent of the receivership law was to provide critically necessary support to schools, support that children in those schools will now be denied.”

Here’s the letter:

SFNY to SED re Receivership Removal March 17 2016.pdf by Nick Reisman

Assembly: Boost Education Spending By $2.9B, Restore CUNY Cuts

Assembly Democrats on Thursday proposed spending $25.4 billion on school aid for the coming 2016-17 fiscal year, a boost of $2.1 billion over the current funding and more than twice than the $960 million proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

On the higher education front, meanwhile, Assembly Democrats want to spend $1.7 billion and restore $485 million in cost shifts to the City University of New York, which Cuomo has said can be found through efficiencies.

“Our children are our biggest priority. Whether it is New York City, Long Island, Central New York, Western New York or the North Country, children face the same challenges,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “And we must find ways to reach them, not only in the classroom, but at home as well,” said Heastie. “The Assembly Majority will do everything we can to make sure that our children are given the tools that they need to succeed.”

Education spending typically takes up the largest expense in the state budget, save for health care, and is often the most fractious and politically difficult fight in the negotiations.

This year, Cuomo is not linking controversial education policy changes to spending, making the debate a relatively old fashioned one about allocations.

Both Assembly Democrats Senate Republicans are seeking a full restoration of education cuts under the gap elimination adjustment, a push that generally helps suburban school districts — a proposal that will cost $434 million. Cuomo’s budget calls for a partial restoration of the GEA.

The Assembly’s proposal also includes a $1.1 billion allocation for Foundation Aid, which provides 25 percent of the state’s total $4.4 billion obligation under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

In addition, the Assembly wants to fund community schools — which offer a range of services that traditional schools do not — with $200 million.

And the fourth year in a row, the Assembly is backing funding for the DREAM Act, which would give access to tuition assistance funds for undocumented immigrants.