Education

Report: Budget Helps With School District Consolidation

A report from the state Association of School Business Officials found failed school district mergers have some common denominators, the report found, including low enrollment and low wealth, as medium-high student poverty and staffing loses in recent years.

Despite the challenges the schools face when it comes to a community’s wealth and population, the districts that have failed to merge reported high student achievement at the same time.

Obstacles to school districts consolidating remain the same as they have in previous years, including the fear of losing a local identity as well as the concern taxes will increase because of the incompatibility with a merging district.

The $138 billion budget has incentives for school districts to merge their operations and services, including one that would reconcile disparities in tax rates between two merging districts.

However, the association has recommendations that could further help with merging districts, including a “unfreezing” of incentive aid that would keep pace with the rate of inflation.

The report also recommends legislation proposed by the Board of Regents that would allow districts to participate in regional high schools without merging districts.

Additional recommendations to merging districts include simplifying the voting process as well as having the state encourage the creation of community schools that emphasize partnerships with agencies such as health, mental health or children and family services.

“While school district mergers may generate some savings for school districts of less than 1,500 students, the chief benefit is student access to a wider array of educational opportunities, that would not be available at a smaller school district,” said Michael J. Borges, NYSASBO Executive Director.

NYSASBO School Merger Study April 2014 1 by Nick Reisman

New NYSUT President Hopeful On Evaluation Changes

The new president of the statewide teachers union on Tuesday in an interview said she was hopeful some changes could be made to the state’s teacher evaluation law, but reiterated the rank-and-file members were not prepared to endorse Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Karen Magee, a Westchester County union leader, was elected the third president of the New York United Teachers over the weekend and the first woman to lead the labor organization.

The vote was seen as potentially problematic for Cuomo, given that delegates were upset former President Richard Iannuzzi did not effectively push back against the governor’s policies, especially when it came to the evaluation law.

But Magee in an interview with Time Warner Cable News gave credit to Cuomo for including a slower implementation of the Common Core standards in the $138 billion budget.

The changes included in the spending plan also included more teaching training as well as student privacy protections.

“Our current governor has begun to see the need to slow down the process,” she said. “It’s evident in the position that’s been taken regarding the students and the moratorium that relates to their test scores as part of what has to go forward.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo last week reversed course and said he would consider changes to the 2013 evaluation law for teachers when it came to the Common Core standards — a major point of contention for the teachers union.

“I believe the last few days that the governor is starting to hear the need that those same invalid scores to be removed from the teacher evaluation process,” she said. “That type of moratorium would certainly send a message that he recognizes the needs of NYSUT and more importantly its members.”

To be sure, there’s a number of issues beyond the intersection of the teacher evaluation law and Common Core standards that NYSUT still holds against Cuomo, including the state’s tax cap as well as funding for public education.

Magee said that for now there’s no desire to endorse Cuomo’s re-election bid, but she didn’t shut the door entirely.

“There’s no sentiment to endorse the governor,” she said. “There’s a lot of time between now and August.”

Iannuzzi Out As NYSUT President

The longtime president of the statewide teachers union was ousted this weekend by delegates at the union’s Representative Assembly.

Richard Iannuzzi, who had been president of the New York State United Teachers union since 2005, lost to a slate led by Westchester County leader Karen Magee, backed by the United Federation of Teachers.

Magee is the third president in NYSUT’s 42-year history, and the first woman to hold the post.

“Our team stands for change and our work begins now,” Magee said in a statement.

“That includes taking on the tough fights and communicating clearly with decision makers at every level. We will be the voice they cannot ignore. We will defend public education and public service. Period.”

In the weeks ahead, Magee said she she and her team of officers will travel the state to call on “each and every member to BE the union, as we unite for change.”

In addition to Magee, delegates re-elected Andy Pallotta as executive vice president and approved two new vice presidents: UFT vice president Catalina Fortino and Paul Fortino, a special education teacher in Patchogue-Medford and president of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers.

Iannuzzi was only the second president in the union’s history, and the contested vote to oust him was a rarity in NYSUT’s history.

But Iannuzzi faced criticism for not aggressively pushing back against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s policies, especially a 2013 teacher evaluation law.

Delegates at the 600,000-member union’s New York City confab on Saturday had supported an Iannuzzi-backed measure that declared a vote of no-confidence in state Education Commissioner John King and called on him to resign.

Nevertheless, the move had little impact on the final vote count.

The vote also comes as a number of high-profile education issues come to a head this year in Albany, including withering criticism of the state’s rollout of the Common Core assessments.

Magee will take over the union as Cuomo seeks to make changes to the teacher evaluation law after the state budget delayed aspects of the Common Core standards for student assessment.

Cuomo had previously warned against altering the law, but last week indicated he would make changing it a priority in the post-budget session.

It also remains to be seen what impact the union’s change in leadership will have for Cuomo’s political calculus this year.

NYSUT and other public-sector labor organizations have been deeply unhappy with Cuomo’s fiscal agenda this year, and the union-backed Working Families Party has gone as far as to suggest it could endorse someone else for governor this fall.

Latimer: Astorino’s Kids Are ‘Political Props’

Sen. George Latimer, a Westchester County Democrat, has been deployed to respond to County Executive/GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino’s announcement this morning that he and his wife have decided to have his kids opt out of the upcoming Common Core exams to protest the controversial curriculum.

In a statement, Latimer, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate Education Committee, accused Astorino of sinking to a “new low” by “using his children as political props to make points that are pure fiction.”

“Mr. Astorino’s latest venture into the absurd includes blaming Bill Gates for the creation of Common Core standards and Governor Cuomo for implementing them,” Latimer continued. “We need to set the record straight.”

“Governor Cuomo has been a strong voice for parents and students in opposing the flawed implementation of common core. On this very day, the state is passing laws he proposed which eliminate all testing for kindergarten through second grade and negate common core test scores for all students.”

“This is the kind of strong leadership we need – not the type of attacks and stunts that puts political posturing ahead of public policy. Governor Cuomo deserves our thanks for his substantive vision and forceful leadership.”

Astorino has been hammering on the Common Core for some time, calling it yet another unfunded mandate handed down to local governments (in this case, the school districts) by the state. He has also said he would eradicate it completely if he’s elected governor in November.

The slam on Astorino for using his kids as “political props” seems unfair. It’s not as if he’s the first elected official to highlight family members to make a point during a political campaign. Actually, it’s a time-honored tradition to involve one’s children and spouse to demonstrate familial ties to the voters. In this case, the Astorinos are joining many other New York parents in opting their kids out of what they consider onerous and unfair testing.

AQE, NY Communities For Change Target Avella

AQE and NY Communities for Change are taking advantage in this (hopefully brief) break in the budget action to target the IDC’s newest member, Queens Democratic Sen. Tony Avella, accusing him of “selling out” on charter school co-locations.

Email blasts from the two liberal organizations note that Avella used to be an outspoken opponent of charters – and co-location in particular – and yet voted “yes” on the Senate one-house budget that education advocates say pushes more of the controversial co-locations and hikes state aid to charters at the expense of traditional public schools.

This is a disaster, but it would not be on the table if Senator Avella had not voted for it when the Republican led coalition included this plan in their budget bill,” AQE’s email, signed by its advocacy director Zakiyah Ansari. “Now, Avella has to step up and stop it from happening.”

“…Negotiations are intense, and the State Assembly leadership is fighting hard, but they need our help,” the email continues. “It is difficult when the charter school lobbyists have spent more than $5 million on a TV and radio advertising campaign. These same lobbyist are funneling campaign money into the Senate leadership coalition that Senator Avella has joined.”

Both emails encourage their recipients to email Avella and express their disappointment. New York Communities for Change is also robocalling in Avella’s district. According to AQE’s Billy Easton, some 500 emails have already been sent to Avella’s office since these blasts were sent less than an hour ago.

When the Senate one-house budget was passed, Avella said he had not changed his mind about either charter schools or co-locations, but wanted to vote “yes” because he believed the plan would result in more money for NYC schools overall.

“I am voting for this resolution because of the more than half a billion dollars in new funding it asks our state to deliver to non-charter New York City publics schools,” Avella said at the time. “Any legislator stubborn enough to turn down that type of windfall for New York City students and teachers is forgetting about the families who elected them here in the first place.”

Statewide Pre-K Pegged At $340M

State officials are closing in on an agreement that would fund statewide pre-kindergarten programs at $340 million in the coming 2014-15 budget.

Under the agreement, $300 million would be set aside for New York City, with $40 million for the rest of the state.

The deal comes after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had campaigned on a plan that would provide universal pre-K in the city with a tax on those who earn $500,000 and more a year to pay for it.

But the tax increase ran into opposition in Albany – both from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans.

Cuomo had proposed spending $1.5 billion over five years, with $100 million starting in the first year, to fund pre-K.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s one-house budget resolution proposed spending $540 million, which was the number de Blasio had proposed ($340 million for pre-K and the rest for after school programs). Unlike the Assembly however, the Senate rejected de Blasio’s ask for the power to tax rich New York City residents, and instead proposed to pay for pre-K and after school programs by cutting $1 billion worth of corporate tax cuts sought by Cuomo.

DREAM Act (By Another Name) Lives?

Cardinal Timothy Dolan released a carefully worded statement this afternoon that seemed to suggest some form of the DREAM Act is very much alive as legislative leaders and the governor continue to try to hammer out a budget deal.

“We have been advocating for the Education Investment Tax Credit as a critically needed measure to help provide scholarships for families to pay tuition for children attending private and parochial schools,” Dolan said.

“At this time in Albany, there is discussion of expanding this education tax credit concept to include scholarship funding for college students in need, including those students who might not otherwise qualify for other assistance opportunities. We support this expanded concept and urge its passage.”

“Students who might not otherwise qualify for other assistance opportunities” sounds a lot to me like students who aren’t able to access state-funded programs to help pay for higher education due to their immigration status. (In other words, they’re undocumented). But Dolan, who is a DREAM Act supporter, specifically avoided any mention of the controversial legislation in his statement.

I called the state Catholic Conference spokesman Dennis Poust, who told me that during the course of negoitations “it has become clear that the framework of discussions includes some elements” of the DREAM Act. If what the four men in a room are considering is a straight expansion of the education tax credit the church has been pushing, then it would definitely apply to undocumented students, Poust said, because the bill in its current form makes no mention of immigration status.

Poust said the cardinal and the governor have been “keeping the lines of communication open,” and Dolan put out this statement because “it was felt that it would be helpful” as negotiations continue.

It had been suggested that the up to $300 million annual education tax credit could be “traded” (in budgetspeak) for the DREAM Act, which is opposed by the Senate Republicans and failed by two votes on the Senate floor last week. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the governor had put that idea on the table, but Silver didn’t think it was “viable.”

The teachers unions have opposed the tax credit, even though supporters – like Dolan – say it will help public as well as private (and parochial) schools.

Lawmakers Hopeful For Common Core Changes

State lawmakers say they are hopeful to see some sort of changes to the state’s implementation in the Common Core education standards as part of the final budget agreement.

Legislative leaders on Wednesday confirmed they were discussing some sort of a moratorium to Common Core implementation during budget negotiations.

Any agreement is unlikely to include changes to the state’s teacher evaluation law.

But lawmakers said they expect enhanced privacy protections as well as teacher development training in any agreement.

“The focus right now is especially on the effect on kids for these upcoming examines and that’s what we need right now,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan.

The immediate concern for state officials is the upcoming round of testing due to start on Tuesday. The budget is due the day before.

“I think as much as we can do to settle down the classrooms, the students, the teachers, would be really helpful,” said Albany Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy.

A moratorium agreement for Common Core could defuse long-running tensions over the roll out of the exam.

At issue, in part, has been concerns raised by the statewide teachers union over the standards.

Education advocates have been preferential to the two-delay measure approved by the Assembly, which created a moratorium for certain aspects of Common Core.

“The devil will be in the details,” said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, saying the Assembly’s two-year delay bill only dealt the “consequences” of the standards.

“If it does something less than the Assembly bill, then it could just be for show,” he added.

Cardinal Dolan Robos For Education Tax Credits

Cardinal Timothy Dolan has recorded a robocall in hopes of a last-minute rally by fellow Catholics in support of an education tax credit for those who donate to public schools and to scholarship funds that help poor kids attend private schools.

The tax credit is a top priority for the church this session, and Dolan was in Albany last week to lobby on its behalf. This call is being received by Catholic households in the diocese (Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island and the Hudson Valley), according to a source familiar with the effort.

It had been suggested that the tax credit, which is opposed by the teachers unions, and, by extension, also by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, could be part of an eleventh-hour budget trade for the DREAM Act – a priority for the Assembly Democrats that failed on the floor of the Senate last week.

But after a leaders meeting Monday, Silver said the linkage of these two issues – something he said was floated by the governor – is not “viable.” But sources say both remain alive as budget talks continue down at the Capitol.

Here’s the script of Dolan’s call, which you can listen to via the link below.

“Hello there, Cardinal Timothy Dolan here. I need your help. You probably heard that the state budget is going to be enacted within the next very few days. And we need your help to ensure that education tax credits are included.”

“You’ve heard of education tax credits haven’t you? They’re going to generate a lot of scholarship money for our families in our Catholic schools, charter schools, our private schools.”

“Now your child’s going to be bringing home a letter from school today or tomorrow and I’m asking that you join me and so many of our police, fire and labor unions and so many businesses and parents and alumni on our side in calling your state legislator to make your voice heard, using the information in that important letter.”

“Thanks a lot and God bless.”

Listen Here

King Offers Superintendents Guidance On New Round Of Testing

While any significant changes to the Common Core education standards appear for now to have melted away in the state budget talks, Education Commissioner John King is sending a letter to school superintendents across the state offering guidance on the coming round of April testing.

And in addition to emphasizing preparation and communication, King also insists that teachers won’t be judged in their evaluations on test scores alone, “but rather on a range of measures.”

Essentially, King insists, a teacher won’t lost their job based on the Common Core results.

“Last year’s evaluations identified just one percent of teachers in the lowest category (ineffective), and these teachers need to remain in that category for two years in a row – despite receiving additional support through an improvement plan – to even be considered for the new due process dismissal procedure established in the evaluation law,” he wrote. “In the meantime, we have – collectively – spent hundreds of millions of dollars on teacher training, curriculum development and support since the standards were adopted in 2010.”

Letter to Superintendent 3-24-14!1!2 by Nick Reisman