Tax Credit Mailers Target Assembly Dems

A SoP reader in Binghamton forwarded a copy of a mailer attacking Democratic Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo for approving a “sweet deal” to automatically raise the pay of state lawmakers but refusing to support the education investment tax credit that Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently repackaged as part of the Parental Choice in Education Act.

The mailer says Albany Assembly members make $80,000 (actually, the base pay is $79,500, plus extra for committee chairmanships and leadership positions – a stipend known at the Capitol as a “lulu”) for “part-time work,” and also make extra (per diems to cover travel and living expenses) just for showing up.

“Albany politicians need to get their priorities straight and focus on our families by passing the Education Tax Credit,” the mailer reads. “…Tell Assembly Member Lupardo, politicians don’t need our help, our schools do.”

There’s also another version of the mailer that urges recipients to join the governor in supporting the tax credit, which has been sent to constituents in Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan’s Queens district.

The mailers are being paid for by the Coalition for Opportunity in Education. The coalition – in partnership with Students First and Families for Excellent Schools – is also paying for a pair of pro-tax credit TV ads, one of which features Cuomo.

“There are a number of members who are not supporting this bill from areas where we know there is strong support within the district,” said coalition spokesman Bob Bellafiore, when asked who else is being targeted by this mail campaign. “…We’re not saying if it’s Senate, Assembly, but we are constantly evaluating whether and where more or less voter education is needed.”

State lawmakers didn’t actually vote to raise their own pay. Technically speaking, that would be illegal. There was, however, a legislative pay raise commission included in the budget deal struck by legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past spring.

The commission will be made up of seven members – three appointed by Cuomo, two by the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, and one each by the Assembly speaker and Senate majority leader. It will be charged with setting the salaries of judges, statewide elected officials and some top executive branch staffers. It will make its first recommendations just after the November 2016 elections, and unless the Legislature specifically votes to reject its proposal, the salary increases will take effect in January 2017.

This cycle will be repeated every four years, which means the “what should we trade for it” pre-election pay raise trade dance between the Legislature and the governor will come to an end.

Cuomo has made his Parental Choice in Education Act an end-of-session priority. He tried unsuccessfully to link the tax credit with the DREAM Act in his executive budget, but neither issue made it into the final spending deal.

The Senate Republicans are conceptually supportive of the tax credit, and have already passed a version – though it differs from what the governor is pushing.

The trouble is in the Assembly Democratic conference (hence, the mailers), where Speaker Carl Heastie – who used to be a co-sponsor of tax credit legislation until he ascended to his leadership post and took his name off all bills – has said there isn’t sufficient support among his members to pass it.

NYSUT is vehemently opposed to the tax credit, and recently launched a 10-day radio ad campaign against it.


a href=”″ title=”COE MAILER Front by CapTon2, on Flickr”>COE MAILER Front

Board Of Regents Elect New Education Commissioner

The Board of Regents on Tuesday unanimously elected a former Florida schools superintendent the new commissioner for the state Department of Education.

MaryEllen Elia will take office as the next commissioner of education starting July 6. She will be paid $250,000.

Elia’s selection comes at a crucial time for education policy in New York: State lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved a new teacher evaluation measure in the 2015-16 state budget last month, a move that was deeply opposed by the state’s teachers unions for its weakening of tenure.

Though she spent 10 years at the Hillsborough School District in Florida as superintendent, Elia is a native western New Yorker.

She is supportive of the Common Core education standards, but at a news conference following her election as commissioner, Elia spoke in conciliatory terms when discussing teachers, whose statewide umbrella union has been especially restive over the changes.

“I’m very supportive of raising standards for students,” she said, adding, “I think it’s important for us to move forward in this nation, particularly in New York, on implementation. I think there needs to be feedback that we receive from people on the ground implementing the changes and we need to provide a lot of support for our teachers and our students.”

A former social studies teacher who taught in Amherst, Erie County, Elia said she is a former member of the teachers union in both New York and in Florida. Elia said she still considers herself a teacher.

New York education officials also continue to grapple with efforts to have students opt out of Common Core-based examinations, with districts recording high numbers during the April round of testing.

Elia said Hillsborough was a different case when it came to students opting out of the tests.

“We had very, very few opt outs, if any, in our district,” she said. “I think communication continues to be key why we have standards.”

Nevertheless, the teachers unions are far more powerful in New York than they are in Florida. Labor groups are pushing state lawmakers to adopt changes to the state’s teacher evaluation law that include slowing the implementation of the criteria.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said at today’s news conference she expects to meet the June 30 deadline for developing new regulations for the evaluations.

“If I were a betting person, I would bet that part of the regulatory language that we will put forward by June 30 will include a process by which we will have an ongoing conversation across this state about how to improve evaluation,” Tisch said. “We have always said public policy is not a static process.”

More challenging still, Elia faces a governor in Cuomo who has sought broader control over the state’s education policy. A proponent of charter schools, Cuomo is in a protracted battle with teachers unions over the direction of public education — as well as spending — in the state.

At the moment, the New York State United Teachers Union and other top officials in teacher labor groups spoke highly of Elia.

“As everyone knows, our union is opposed to high-stakes testing and value-added model, but even when MaryEllen applied it as required under Florida law, she made collaboration her mantra,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “And as a result, even when the going got tough in Florida, she was able to work with multiple stakeholders to do what was best for Hillsborough students.”

The education reform group StudentsFirstNY offered similar praise for Elia, calling her a “strong choice.”

“She is a nationally recognized leader in education, who has a record of accomplishment in helping boost the achievement for low-income children. As a former educator herself, she knows firsthand what it takes for schools to succeed. We believe MaryEllen Elia will lead the way to give all of New York’s students the schools they deserve,” said the group’s executive director Jenny Sedlis.

Elia left her superintendent post in January after she was fired by the district’s school board in a close vote, which ultimately proved to be a controversial decision. Her contract cancellation cost the district $1.1 million.

Elia blamed the episode in part on the changing school board in Hillsborough County.

“I’m moving forward now and I’m not really concentrating on the past,” she said. “I’m excited to be in New York. I’m coming home.”

SED Poised To Name New Education Commissioner

The state Department of Education is poised to nominate a new education commissioner as the Board of Regents meets in executive session this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is expected to hold a news conference at 2:30 in Albany.

The Buffalo News reported this morning that the Regents will nominate western New York native MaryEllen Elia, a Florida school official.

Elia would be the first woman to serve as the state’s top education official.

SED spokesman Tom Dunn confirmed the Board of Regents is meeting in an executive session to discuss a “personnel” issue.

“They are discussing a candidate,” he said.

The commissioner post at the Department of Education has been vacant since last year, when John King left to join the Obama administration at the end of last year.

Elia stirred controversy as the Hillsborough County superintendent, where the school board voted in January voted to terminate her contract over concerns, in part, that schools were not doing enough to help special needs children.

The new education commissioner will take office as New York faces its pending education questions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the budget pushed through changes to the state’s education policy that weaken teacher tenure as well as create a new teacher evaluation system.

The Board of Regents is being tasked with developing criteria for how much weight to give in-classroom observation and at least one standardized test in performance reviews.

Marcellino: Mayoral Control And Charter Cap Will Be A Conference Decision

Incoming Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino will meet next Wednesday with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to discuss the mayoral control issue, the Nassau County Republican said in a phone interview on Friday.

Whether to extend mayoral control of city schools, and how long that extension might be, will ultimately be an issue that’s up to the Republican conference, he said.

“We’re going to sit down on Wednesday and talk to Mayor de Blasio,” Marcellino said. “He and I will sit down and talk about the issues. There’s a lot to talk about. We’ll discuss the concepts. conference position. It’s an issue that has to e discussed in conference.”

The Democratic-led Assembly this week approved a three-year extension of mayoral control and Republican Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn on Thursday backed an extension, albeit without a time frame for a new expiration date.

By the same token, Marcellino said a proposal to lift the state’s cap on charter schools would also be up to the GOP conference as well.

“I don’t oppose charter schools, but how many there have to be has to be looked at,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan this afternoon formally announced he would appoint Marcellino to replace him as chairman of the Senate Education committee.

It’s a key spot in the Legislature, especially in the post-budget legislative session that is expected to contend with a number of high-profile education matters. Meanwhile, state lawmakers continue to grapple with contentious issues such as the Common Core education standards and how to evaluate teachers in the classroom.

He called the appointment a “major responsibility” and said he was optimistic changes could be made to the education measures approved in the state budget last month.

“We’ve got a lot before us there’s a lot to do on the table,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with our colleagues in both houses. We have to reach out to parents and teachers.”

Marcellino is the sponsor of a bill in the chamber that would extend the deadline for the implementation of the new evaluation criteria both at the state level and for school districts.

“I’m always optimistic,” Marcellino said. “I do believe we can work out an agreement with the Assembly and then hopefully the governor will agree.”

Marcellino knocked the introduction of Common Core in the state, saying its roll out was mishandled by education officials.

“Common Core is about improving standards,” he said. “I don’t think anybody can seriously be against higher standards. But it’s a question of how it’s implemented. The roll out was poor, it’s got to be implemented better.”

Marcellino introduced a separate bill this year that would provide teachers with the answer key to Common Core-based tests, which he said could help teachers improve.

“I do believe there is an overemphasis on testing,” he said. “Using testing as a learning tool is important. You have to give the questions back to the teachers so they can learn from the test. The test should be a learning tool.”

A former high school science teacher at Grover Cleveland High School, Marcellino indicated he was sympathetic toward how teachers are treated (Marcellino was a teacher at the same time Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan was a student at the high school).

“Teachers have always been evaluated. We were evaluated constantly,” he said. “I don’t think any teacher fears an evaluation. We have to tell them this isn’t us against them. There’s no gotcha mentality in my approach to education.”

He indicated support for more money to develop teacher training methods and said the teachers unions should be getting involved as well to “make sure everyone has a fair shot.”

Nevertheless, Marcellino said there was little daylight between him and Flanagan on education issues, despite what he said were minor disagreements.

“I think we’re pretty much aligned,” he said. “John and I have been good friends for years.”

Marcellino’s Bills: Extend Teacher Eval Deadline, Reveal Common Core Info

Incoming Senate Education Committee Chairman Carl Marcellino has backed a number of education-related bills over the years as well as measures designed to reform the Common Core standards and teacher evaluation system.

Marcellino on Friday was the announced appointment of Majority Leader John Flanagan to chair the education panel, which will take up a number of high-profile school-related issues in the remaining post-budget legislative session.

Marcellino in the last several weeks alone has introduced legislation dealing with the Common Core standards as well as the newly approved teacher evaluation regulations.

The evaluation bill would move the deadline for school districts to adopt the new evaluation criteria from November of this year to June 2017. The new requirements for the evaluation criteria wouldn’t be set until Jan. 31, 2017, under Marcellino’s bill.

“The current effective date of June 30, 2015 is simply unrealistic when you combine all the obstacles currently in the way of a successful process,” the bill memo states. “The obstacles include the lack of a current SED commissioner, the learning curve of newly confirmed members to the Board of Regents, the confusion amongst the Board relative to the adopted language, and growing opposition from both parents and education professionals.”

Under the measure approved in the budget, school districts must adopt the evaluation criteria by Nov. 15 or risk losing a boost in state education aid.

The Democratic-led Assembly has already passed a package bills that would extend the deadline for setting the evaluation criteria as well as unlinking the aid from the evaluation adoption.

Another Marcellino-backed measure would reform Common Core-based tests by providing test answers and questions to teachers.

In the legislative memorandum of support, Marcellino expresses sympathy for teachers administering Common Core-based tests.

“In recent months, parents and teachers have expressed the need for common core tests and results to be made available to the teachers who administer the exams,” the bill memo states. “These results can be helpful to teachers and students to improve and better understand their strengths and weaknesses regarding these exams.”

Marcellino’s introduction of these bills could give those in the education reform movement some pause: Flanagan, as education committee chairman, was seen as generally supportive of Common Core-based standards.

In a Facebook post earlier this year, Marcellino expressed opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education measures included in the budget.

“Let’s be clear. I do not support the Governor’s education reform proposals,” he wrote. “His plan is bad policy and bad for education. If it was up to me alone, these concepts would be off the table completely, but it takes the Senate, the Assembly and the Governor to craft a final budget. We must negotiate. Our Senate one house budget did not accept his plan and clearly states our intention to modify his flawed design.”

Marcellino has also been skeptical of efforts to tie an extension of mayoral control to New York City schools to rising the cap on charter schools statewide.

Other bills Marcellino has introduced would:

  • Require statements in the Board of Regents’ annual reports detailing total expenditures made by school districts
  • Require each school district to state what percentage of their expenses has gone toward instruction in an annual report card
  • Reduce the number of members on the Board of Regents to 13, with each representing an existing judicial district
  • Encourage school districts to install alternative energy systems such as solar, wind or geothermal.

Marcellino In Line For Senate Education Chair

Sen. Carl Marcellino of Nassau County will take the top post at the Senate Education Committee, Majority Leader John Flanagan said in a Friday afternoon statement.

Marcellino replaces Flanagan as chairman of the closely watched committee after he was elevated to majority leader last week, replacing Dean Skelos, who faces corruption charges.

“Next week, I will formally appoint Senator Carl Marcellino as Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Education,” Flanagan said in a statement. “Senator Marcellino has a wealth of experience in the Legislature and is a former public school teacher and school board member with a strong grasp of the education system in New York State. I know he will do a tremendous job representing students and their parents when it comes to improving the quality of education, and he will be a tireless advocate for the members of our Senate Republican Conference and the taxpayers and constituents they represent.”

Marcellino is taking the helm at the committee at a key time for education issues: An extension of mayoral control for New York City schools remains under negotiations, as are changes to education measures, such as a new teacher evaluation system, are under debate.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing forward with a revamped education investment tax credit and an effort to raise the cap on charter schools statewide.

Assembly Votes To Delay Teacher Evaluation Impact

Lawmakers took the first steps to formally rebuff the education changes approved in the state budget last month as the Assembly on Wednesday approved a package of measures aimed at slowing the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system.

The bill, approved by the Democratic-led chamber, passed overwhelmingly: 135-1.

The bill would extend the deadline for the Board of Regents to develop regulations for the new evaluation system and gives local school districts more time to implement the new performance review standards.

The measure also would reverse the linking of a boost of state education aid to the enactment of the new evaluations. More funding would be allocated to the Department of Education, about $8.4 million, to help districts enact more locally based testing.

Republicans in the Senate are considering a similar measure that will also address the controversial Common Core education standards and extend the time for the development the evaluation criteria.

The Board of Regents currently has until June 30 to determine how much weight to give classroom observation and at least one standardized test on a teacher’s evaluation. A second test can be added based on collective bargaining at the local level.

Still, it remains to be seen whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo will embrace these changes. The governor pushed hard to include the new evaluation system in the budget, which was included in an omnibus spending bill for school as well as the implementation of new ethics legislation.

The measures approved today by the Assembly was one supported by the New York State United Teachers union, which has tangled with the governor on education reform policies.

“We commend the Assembly and its leadership for taking a strong step toward getting our schools back to what’s really important: teaching and learning,” New York State United Teachers union President Karen Magee said in a statement released on Tuesday and before the bill’s passage. “This bill, while not perfect, clearly begins meeting the concerns of students, parents and educators.”

Cuomo’s allies in the education reform movement, meanwhile, blasted the move.

“It’s disheartening to learn that certain lawmakers who approved teacher assessment reforms during the budget process have flip-flopped after a special interest group complained about the agreement,” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said in a statement. ”If New York State is serious about improving education, it must move forward with a better teacher evaluation system.”

Cuomo is pushing ahead in the post-budget legislative session this month with measures that would lift the statewide cap on charter schools as well as create an education investment tax credit.

Both proposals are opposed by NYSUT.

Estimates Show Nearly All School Budgets Pass

Projections this morning from both the New York State United Teachers and the New York State School Boards Association show virtually all of the school budgets put before voters on Tuesday were approved.

At the same time, the state School Boards Association found more than 99 percent of districts budgeted with the state’s cap on property tax levy increases.

NYSSBA found 18 districts submitted budgets that exceeded the cap, which required a 60 percent supermajority to be approved. Of those districts, more than 60 percent approved budgets over the cap, which is not a major shift from last year.

But the vast majority, 658 school districts, submitted budgets within the tax cap, and 99.7 percent of those spending plans were approved by voters.

Statewide, districts proposed an average tax levy hike of about 1.6 percent. The average proposed spending increase for the 2015-16 school year is 1.9 percent.

“Today is a good day for public education. School districts put forth budgets that will provide students in their communities with high-quality educational opportunities next year,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Tim Kremer in a statement. “The combination of sound budgeting by school boards and a healthy state aid increase allowed many school districts to restore programs and positions while having a negligible impact on their local tax levies.”

NYSUT, too, praised the high passage rate on Tuesday, which it pegged at 99 percent (the school boards association said the estimate was 98.6 percent).

“Parents and community members carefully reviewed school budgets and demonstrated the importance of local control by voting on their school budgets,” said NYSUT President Karen Magee. “In every region of the state, what we see today is a ringing endorsement of the work of teachers and school leaders in public schools on behalf of the state’s most important asset – its students.”

School districts that did not have their budgets pass on Tuesday will have to submit revised plans to be voted on June 16.

Lawmakers in Albany are debating this month whether to make the state’s tax cap permanent or simply extend it for another several years.

Senate Dems Submit ‘Legislative Solutions’ To Budget’s Education Measures

Senate Democrats introduced on Tuesday a package of measures designed to alter the education policy changes included in the state budget last month.

The measures reflect a growing effort in both the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled Assembly to address the growing dissatisfaction over the budget agreement that included a new teacher evaluation plan as well as make it harder for teachers to obtain tenure.

“Quite frankly, I’m proud Senate Democrats voted against these changes,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

Among the changes being proposed by Senate Democrats:

-End the linkage of school aid to school districts adopting the new evaluation measures

-Create an “advisory council” that would review the annual performance review plans

-Restore more local control over the student achievement metric when it comes to developing teacher evaluations

-Establish a community school grant program

Lawmakers in both chambers are also in virtual agreement the Board of Regents will not be able to meet the June 30 deadline to develop regulations for the new evaluation criteria and are trying to push that deadline back.

“I can tell you, the theme no matter where you are is the same: The changes won’t help our students,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We have to agree, our main goal is helping our students.”

Senate Democrats are once again taking a more aggressive approach with the Cuomo administration on school reform as the governor himself continues to push measures opposed by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, the deputy minority leader, said in an interview on Monday with NY1 that Cuomo’s education push this year was comparable to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s policies toward labor.

Still, Senate Democrats aren’t completely opposed to all of the governor’s education measures. Seven Democrats in the chamber last voted for the tax credit when it was before them this year, including Stewart-Cousins.

“There’s never been a conference position on it,” Stewart-Cousins said of the EITC. “Several of our members have voted for and several have voted against, I expect it will continue in that fashion.”

She added she was yet to review the repackaged measure introduced by Cuomo this month.

One insider with ties to the Cuomo administration scoffed at what they saw as a disconnect.

“We all know that Mike Gianaris will say anything to get on TV, even if it’s nonsensical special interest talking points that put him at odds with his own leader,” the insider said.

Cuomo backs a lifting of the state cap on charter schools as well as the education investment tax credit, which is aimed encouraging donations to public schools and scholarship programs for private and parochial schools.

Samuels: Tisch Being Set Up To Fail

Effective NY founder and Democratic donor Bill Samuels on Monday is releasing a letter to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch blasting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approach to the state’s new teacher evaluation criteria.

Tisch role in the regulations governing the evaluations is key: The Board of Regents is charged with determining how much weight to give in-classroom observation versus at least one standardized test when assessing teacher performance under the agreement reached in the budget last month.

The Board of Regents has until June 30 to develop the regulations, which Tisch has insisted the board will meet, even as state lawmakers push for an extension.

It’s outrageous and unacceptable for the Governor to demand that the Regents come up with an entirely new teacher evaluation system in a span of only three months,” Samuels writes in the letter. “He has set you up to fail.”

Samuels on Monday in his letter said the deadline should be far longer: At least six months.

“The only person so disconnected as to argue that it is feasible to compose a new evaluation system at this breakneck pace is Governor Cuomo,” Samuels writes in his letter to Tisch. “I believe that the Regents should have at least six months—if not a year—to come up with a new evaluation system, so that it will reflect both a consensus of opinion among education officials, administrators, and teachers, and be carefully thought through so that it will not have to be scrapped once again after its real world application exposes myriad errors and oversights resulting from a rushed process.”

State lawmakers in the post-budget session are pushing for changes to the education policy included in the budget. In addition to the deadline extension for developing the evaluation regulations, lawmakers want to unlink the adoption of the evaluation criteria by school districts to a boost in state education aid.

In his letter, Samuels suggests the proposed changes are good start, though says a bill backed by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan should push its deadline back further.

“Assemblywoman Nolan’s version of the bill provides the Regents an extension until November 2015 and provides adequate time for local districts to negotiate teacher evaluation plans. The bill introduced by Senator Flanagan is built around the same principles, but needs longer extensions,” he writes.

Districts currently have until Nov. 15 to adopt the new evaluations.

Samuels by Nick Reisman