Buffalo Teachers Not Making Endorsement For Mayor

From the Morning Memo:

The Buffalo Teachers Federation is only endorsing one candidate, so far, this election cycle. That’s Democrat newcomer April Baskin, who’s involved in a four-way primary to replace Betty Jean Grant on the Erie County Legislature.

BTF President Phil Rumore said Baskin seems to be in tune with the issues.

“The thing that was impressive with April was, she comes from the west side but she’s talking about joining and working together with the west side and the east side, not being for one or the other but sort of bringing that community together,” he said.

The union is not planning to make an endorsement in the Buffalo mayoral primary which features three Democrats, Grant, incumbent Byron Brown, and city Comptroller Mark Schroeder. Rumore said Schroeder was the only candidate who interviewed and teachers had some concerns about some of his answers.

“The mayor really, if he had come for it, he might’ve gotten our endorsement. He might not. He would’ve had to answer some very strong questions, for example his support for education hasn’t really been there but he didn’t even ask for our endorsement, so he didn’t get it,” he said.

Meanwhile, BTF is starting to look ahead to next year too. The union broke rank with the state organization New York State United Teachers, when it endorsed law professor Zephy Teachout instead of Governor Cuomo.

“We have had very few disagreements with our state affiliate. That was one of them,” Rumore said. “We even disagreed with the Working Families Party. The Working Families Party endorsed Governor Cuomo. I’m one of the founders of that party. We disagreed with them. That was very close. In fact, I made the motion to endorse Zephyr Teachout at that party, at that meeting.”

The union president said the organization will be looking at all candidates and making a decision based on what’s best for education and what’s best for Buffalo. He said right now it’s too early to predict if there will be a competitive primary.

Former state Senator Terry Gipson and actress Cynthia Nixon have expressed interest in challenging the governor.

NY Remains Top In Per-Pupil Spending

New York remains a leader when it comes to education spending. A report released by the Empire Center for Public Policy found the state spends more than $20,000 per student, nearly twice the national average.

“New York is spending a lot. At $21,200 we’re well above the national average, which is $11,000. We’re beating it by 86 percent,” said Tim Hoefer, Empire Center executive director.

The Empire Center’s report found much of that money, more than $14,000 per pupil, is driven by salaries and benefits at New York schools, and that the total cost continued to rise over the last three decades.

“If you look at the last 25 years, if you look back at 1995, New York’s spending has gone up in a 25 percent spending increase, which is double what the national has done,” Hoefer said.

Not everyone agrees with the assessment New York is spending a lot on its public schools. The Alliance for Quality Education has pushed the state to spend an extra $3.6 billion; money they say satisfies the terms of a lawsuit over school funding.

“We think there is not enough money going to our schools. There is money that is owed in foundation aid, the $3.6 billion, and that’s just to meet the constitutional requirement – the sound, basic education,” said Marina Marcou-O’Malley, operations and policy director with AQE.

The group, which is allied with teachers unions, is more concerned with poorer communities they say are unfairly impacted by the distribution of state aid.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has railed against the per student cost of education funding, but has also touted his own efforts to spend more each year on schools.

School districts for the last six years have been budgeting with a cap on property tax increases in place. Supporters say that’s controlling high taxes, while opponents contend that makes it harder for schools to raise money.

Side Deal On Charters Praised, Criticized (Updated)

An agreement quietly reached in the battle over charter schools in order to resolve an extension of mayoral control of New York City schools is being praised by some education reform advocates, but criticized by labor unions.

The agreement would allow for the expansion of charter schools by allowing so-called “zombie” charters to re-enter a pool of available applications.

“Charters have been battling with the de Blasio administration for the last four years but thanks to Albany leaders, productive conversations led to an agreement that’s good for all public school kids,” said Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, a group that has been supportive of charter schools. “Parents will have access to more school options and charter operators will get significant relief. Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Flanagan, Leader Klein and Speaker Heastie deserve credit for their work on behalf of all students.”

Updated: In a statement, a spokeswoman for Speaker Carl Heastie noted he was not involved in the discussions that ultimately led to the charter agreement, though added the de Blasio administration has the right to make decisions related to charter administration.

“The Assembly Majority has stated that we don’t necessarily agree with SUNY’s assessment on teacher certifications,” Heastie spokeswoman Kerri Biche said. “But that’s an interpretation for SUNY to determine. As for charter schools, the Speaker was not an active participant in any discussions or negotiations. He said from the beginning the Assembly Majority would not trade anything regarding charter schools for mayoral control. Mayor de Blasio and the city’s Department of Education have the right to make decisions of their choosing in regards to the administration of charter schools that do not require any legislative action.”

But the union that represents professors and instructors in the SUNY system took a different view, indicating the agreement would also impact teacher training by allowing charter schools more flexibility.

“How can SUNY claim that it supports existing state and federal standards for teacher preparation, as stated in a TeachNY resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees, and allow its charter schools to create a new, lower tier of standards for teachers in charter schools?,” asked UUP President Fred Kowal. “This unacceptable proposal bucks the stated objectives of SUNY’s own Teach NY initiative, which was presented as a plan to strengthen the teaching profession while creating a system that ensures that every student is taught by a great teacher.”

Senate Republicans last month sought to expand the number of charter schools through lifting the statewide cap alongside extending mayoral control for de Blasio. The proposal was opposed by the Democratic-led Assembly.

Majority Leader John Flanagan called the victory a success for the parents and students on wait lists for charter schools.

“They are clamoring for a chance at success, and together we have provided them with a better opportunity to achieve their goals, to succeed and to get ahead,” he said. “I thank the Mayor for his openness in addressing this important issue and for demonstrating his support for both children who are currently in a charter school and those who would like to be.”

Medaille President Sounds Off On ‘Free College’ Program

From the Memo:

Medaille College, a small private school in the city of Buffalo, said its enrollment numbers are actually up by roughly 10 percent this year, despite the state’s new “free tuition” program that some other higher education institutions worry will negatively affect their bottom lines.

“We think it has brought our enrollment up because students are looking at their choices and realizing that there’s more than just costs that goes into making the right college decision,” President Kenneth Macur said.

He added his college is educating students about the actual cost of going to a state school versus a private school, noting, for example, roughly 55 percent of students at private schools graduate in four years – considerably higher than at public schools, which contributes to a higher bill.

“You need to go to school six years at the state system to match that graduation rate, so the cost over six years of going to a private school is actually less than a SUNY school,” Macur said.

Macur also pointed out that there’s about $5.1 billion dollars in financial aid available to students who go to private colleges in New York.

“There’s a big misconception about tuition at privates because we publish the sticker price, which is pretty high compared to the sticker price of a state school,” he said. “But when you factor in discounts of 50-55-60 percent, the costs become closer and again the four-year cost of getting a degree becomes less,”

For those reasons, Macur said, students hoping to take advantage of the so-called “free tuition” program are taking an expensive gamble. With the state only having set aside $87 million dollars for the Excelsior Scholarships, he likened the program a lottery without very good odds.

“The Excelsior Scholarship itself is free tuition with a huge asterisks; it’s conditional,” Macur sid. “It’s unguaranteed and it’s really a bait-and-switch to the students of the state of New York.”

Medaille is one of a number of Western New York schools to reject the state’s Enhanced Tuition Awards program, which offers assistance to students at private universities and colleges only if the schools agree to match the state’s contribution.

Macur said that program is not particularly viable either, because it requires private donors to make additional contributions on top of that $5.1 billion.

In his opinion, the state had better options to make higher education more accessible and affordable, but ultimately went with what amounts to a “gimmick.”

“There could have been more consultation but really the consultation we did have was pretty crystal clear,” he said. “If the state wants to support access to higher education, they really should give it out in normal TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) benefits, expand the existing TAP program.”

Ultimately, Macur said, if New York wants to saddle students with less debt, it should be focusing on graduating them sooner and getting them into the workforce as quickly as possible.

Labor Unions Push For Mayoral Control Extension

From the Morning Memo:

A trio of labor unions this week is running ads online urging the passage of an extension of mayoral control of New York City schools in the final days of the state legislative session in Albany.

The ads are being backed by 32BJ, CWA, and DC37 and dovetail with a rally New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio held Monday that included a heavy labor presence.

At the same time, labor leaders signed onto a letter recently calling for the extension of the program.

“Creating a major initiative like Pre-K for All and seeing it through so that 70,000 four-year-olds are now in full-day, high-quality Pre-K is an achievement that simply would not be possible without a Mayor in full possession of all the resources of City government,” they wrote in the letter.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, however, won’t back a “long-term” extension of the program without a provision that also strengthens charter schools, which is opposed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Lawmakers on Monday said they were hopeful a deal would be in place by Wednesday, the scheduled end of the legislative session.

NYSUT Celebrates Elimination Of Testing Days

New York State’s teachers union is commending the State Education Department’s decision to reduce the number of days students are tested. By eliminating a third day of testing, both for math and English language arts, NYSUT said teachers are gaining valuable classroom time.

“New York should only test as much as absolutely necessary to meet the federal law’s requirements and not a question more. Today’s vote by the Regents takes us closer to that goal,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said.

The changes will take effect in Spring 2018 and apply to grades 3-8. The Board of Regents said it should also reduce the amount of time teachers take scoring the tests and may expedite schools transitions to computer-based testing.

Last year, the state reduced the number of questions and eliminated time limits for students taking the tests.

“We will make certain the tests continue to provide a valid and reliable measurement of student achievement,” Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said.

Stated Ed is currently refining benchmarks for Common Core. Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia has been traveling the state to get input from parents, teachers and other stakeholders.

“NYSUT will be strongly advocating that the new benchmarks be age appropriate, fair, and accurate in order to ensure that students and public schools are not unfairly labeled,” Pallotta said.

Vast Majority Of School District Budgets Pass

Initial reports show the vast majority of school district budgets put before voters on Tuesday have been approved, according to the state teachers union and the state school boards association.

All told, an estimated 99 percent of budgets were approved, with 570 in total being backed. Only three — budgets in DeRuyter, Pittsford and East Ramapo — were voted down.

“This year’s annual budget vote is a ringing endorsement of public education. Parents and community members again showed the appreciation and respect they have for their local public schools and the educators who work tirelessly to deliver a superb public education to our state’s children,” said Andy Pallotta, the president of the New York State United Teachers union.

School districts have an average tax levy increase of 1.48 percent for the 2017-18 school year.

“This year, many school boards overcame rising costs in order to deliver budgets that stayed within the state’s property tax cap,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “Smart budgeting, community input and an increase in state education funding helped districts win strong voter support. Some districts were even able to restore positions lost during leaner budgeting years.”

Teachers Union Prez: Medicaid Cuts Could Cost Buffalo Big

From the Morning Memo:

It’s still unclear how much funding the Buffalo Public School District stands to lose for special education services, should the U.S. Senate pass the American Health Care Act approved last week by the House without significant changes.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a restructuring of the Medicaid program would decrease direct federal spending by about $880 billion over the next decade, but the latest version of the House bill has not yet been formally scored.

Districts across the state and country are reimbursed for some services for students with disabilities through the program. When we reached out last week to find how much exactly that amount is in Buffalo, the district referred us to Kinney Management, the vendor that processes its reimbursements.

Kinney indicated yesterday afternoon that it was working to answer our questions. In the meantime, the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation was willing to take a guess.

“It could cost hundreds of thousands,” Phil Rumore said. “It could cost $1 million and the worst part about it is that, aside from costing the money, it’s going to cost the kids the services that they need.”

“We’re supposed to care about people. We’re supposed to care about kids. When you cut back funding for these programs, who are you hurting?”

Rumore said the cash-strapped district already struggles to afford services for students with special needs.

He noted that when the federal government passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act more than 40 years ago, it committed to help districts cover a third of the cost. But in recent years, he said, a disproportionate burden has fallen on districts like Buffalo.

“These services are expensive,” Rumore said. “You have a child that has been diagnosed, that has to be in a class with six other students, a teacher and an aide. That’s expensive but the kids need the help.”

The BTF president said he’s not sure yet how worried he should be about the AHCA. While he’s no fan of the bill, he expects the Senate to make major changes to the legislation – if it even passes at all.

“I would expect none of our senators would vote for the (American Health Care Act), Rumore said. “As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to that bill that the house passed, it’s a disgrace.”

SUNY Appoints Its New Chancellor

The Board of Regents at the State University of New York on Monday formally elected Kristina Johnson as the sprawling system’s new chancellor, replacing the departing Nancy Zimpher.

“Throughout her distinguished career, Kristina Johnson has not only been a faculty member, administrator, and visionary in higher education but also a dedicated public servant, national energy czar, successful entrepreneur, and an acclaimed inventor,” said SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall. “We are thrilled to welcome her to SUNY, where her range of experience will enable her to leverage the incredible work of our 64 colleges and universities.”

Johnson holds dozens of patents, and is the current founder and chief executive officer of Cube Hydro Partners, LLC, which develops hydroelectric generation facilities. She has served as dean of Duke University’s engineering school and served in the Obama administration as a deputy energy secretary.

“The State University of New York is a complex, captivating system like no other in higher education, and the opportunity to serve as its chancellor is the highest honor of my career,” Johnson said.

She is the 13th person to serve as chancellor of the SUNY system, which oversees and administers 64 public university and college campuses.

“From her groundbreaking research and her experience at some of the nation’s finest academic institutions to her service as Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy, she has a proven track record of leadership and innovation,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I applaud the Board of Trustees for this outstanding selection. New York is leading the way in public higher education, and Dr. Johnson will help maintain the upward trajectory of one of the nation’s largest systems of higher education.”

Vast Majority Of School Districts Propose Budgets Within Cap

Ninety-eight percent of the state’s school districts have submitted proposed budgets that plan to live within the state’s cap on property tax increases, according to an analysis by the Association of School Business Officials.

The cap, linked to the rate of inflation, stands at 1.26 percent statewide with some exceptions.

Based on information sent to the association, 15 school districts have proposed overriding the cap, the lowest since the cap took effect in the 2011-12 school year.

School districts and other education advocates have complained the cap is difficult to override, as well as tying it to inflation, which has been largely flat over the last six years.

“School district leaders continue to manage their finances in a prudent and cost effective manner that reflects community priorities at a cost that the public can support,” said Michael Borges, the group’s executive director. “School districts hope the Legislature will support a state Budget that includes a combination of mandate relief and increased aid that will allow them to provide a sound basic education to all students in the state.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $152 billion spending plan includes a $960 million increase in education aid.

1488809905_Tax Cap 2017 Report by Nick Reisman on Scribd