NYSUT Supports Education Commission With “Experts in the Field”

NYSUT President Karen Magee said today her union would be in favor of a commission to recommend reforms to the state’s education system, as long as it had the appropriate members.

Magee told reporters that NYSUT would support a panel as long as it was made up of “experts in the field.”

“We would be in favor of some kind of panel that would look at the evaluation, be comprised of stakeholders, and make recommendations for our legislators to consider,” Magee said. “That would be a panel that would be most appropriate because they would then take into account all things that are going on with the APPR and they would be able to actually be, for example superintendents, teachers, Board of Ed members, regents…”

There has been no official proposal of such a commission, but Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos confirmed to reporters Tuesday that talks were underway on how it could possibly be implemented.

That could include appointments from the legislature and Governor. Magee says NYSUT has no problem with who’s doing the appointment, only with who would be appointed.

“Well, the appointment of such wouldn’t be such a big concern … provided they are truly stakeholders in the process and experts in the field, who appoints them is really not the argument here. It would be more, who could have the best impact and make the best decisions.”

She says while they support such a commission, it would only be used to make recommendations to the legislature. Any reform to the state’s education policy would then have to be passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

When asked if the idea of a commission was evidence that Governor Cuomo was backing down against the state’s largest teacher’s union, Magee did not respond directly to the conflict.

“I think the commission is a movement toward a responsible place to have good discussion about what’s right for schools and what’s right for kids in New York State.

Little Desire For School Funding Post-Budget

State lawmakers on Wednesday expressed little appetite to stave off the approval of increased aid for education to later in the legislative session.

“I’ve been here 30 years, I think that would be very, very challenging,” said Assembly Education Chairwoman Cathy Nolan. “I’ll just say it like that.”

Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he’s dropping some of the more controversial education measures from the negotiations with state lawmakers, he is still insisting on tying education aid to the enactment of his reform measures, possibly through the creation of a panel of experts to suggest changes.

“It certainly may be a way to get us forward,” Nolan said earlier today. “It may be more preferable if things were resolved without that.”

But withholding funding or at least staving off increases until June, when the legislative session is due to conclude, is not considered a viable option for lawmakers.

“That’s clearly not something we would want to do,” she said. “I think it’s always preferable to do school funding in the budget.”

Sen. John Flanagan, the Education Committee chairman in the Senate, echoed those concerns, according to Newsday, saying he can’t “envision” such a move.

As for the commission, it remains unclear what reform measures the panel would be charged with making or who would appoint them.

Still, the idea of the panel taking on teacher evaluation criteria after multiple attempts in Albany were made to do so has its merits, Nolan said.

“I do think there’s genuine frustration in both houses,” Nolan said. “We’ve had four attempts to resolve it in five years. It is appealing to have experts way in.”

Senate Republicans Close With Cuomo On Education Reform

Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are close to an agreement on education reform issues in the state budget, but the Democratic-led Assembly remains another matter.

Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday said his conference is “just about there with him” on education issues following a lengthy closed-door conference on the issue.

At this point, state lawmakers and Cuomo are considering the creation of a commission that would develop teacher evaluation criteria.

It’s unclear what the final composition of the panel would be and what their purview would be.

“Now it’s really about the commission, the composition of the commission and really want their charge would be in terms of finalizing education reform,” Skelos said.

It also remains undetermined if the panel’s recommendations would be immediately acted up on or have to be approved by the Legislature, he said.

“They would come up with recommendations to the Legislature and the question is whether we would vote for it or whether they would implement what they recommend,” Skelos said.

Cuomo is continuing to press on with most of his initial education reform agenda, though a lifting of the statewide cap on charter schools is being left for later in the legislative session.

Assembly Democrats remain at odds with Cuomo on a variety of education issues, including a school receivership proposal as well as an effort to reform teacher tenure and the evaluation procedures for teachers.

“On the Senate side we have had very good conversations on education,” Cuomo said this afternoon. “The Assembly side is still discussing the issue.”

Roberts Was All For CFE Funding Before He Was Against It

Assemblyman Sam Roberts raised eyebrows this week by taking a very public swipe at Syracuse Mayor Stephine Miner and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push for the Cuomo administration to fulfill the 2006 CFE settlement, under which the state owes hundreds of millions of dollars to school districts across the state and a whopping $1.5 billion to the Big Apple.

In a letter to de Blasio, Roberts questioned why the city is seeking additional education dollars under the auspices of the CFE settlement when it current has a healthy economy, sizable tax base and budget surplus of $1.58 billion. Instead, the Syracuse Democrat suggested, perhaps the city, with its “greater resources”, should offer to contribute to its poorer neighbors and districts elsewhere in the state.

“The Assembly has focused its attention and funding on New York City for far too long at the expense of other 676 school districts statewide,” Roberts wrote.

The assemblyman’s sentiments are especially surprising due to the fact that he signed onto a letter to the governor back in January, calling on him to include a “substantial” increase in education in his 2015-16 executive budget proposal and citing data from the state Education Department that suggests the state is $4.5 billion behind on its CFE committment to districts statewide – an argument being made repeatedly this year by AQE, NYSUT and others.

Nowhere in the January letter was any distinction made about upstate districts versus New York City – the largest school district in the nation, which was the focus of the CFE case and is owed the lion’s share of the outstanding state aid. The majority of Assembly Democrats signed the letter – including Roberts.

Perhaps the assemblyman’s change of heart – and desire to pubicly criticize two fellow Democrats who have had very public disagreements with the governor – had something to do with the report that he has been offered a job with the Cuomo administration?

A source who has spoken directly to Roberts confirmed that the assemblyman did indeed say he would likely be joining the governor’s staff at the end of this year’s legislative session. According to this source, Roberts was actually offered a job early in the year, but turned it down, and is now up for a different – albeit yet-to-be-determined – position.

Asked by the Syracuse Post-Standard whether the governor had offered him a job, Roberts did not deny that had occurred, saying only: “A lot of people offer me jobs, OK?”

“Well, that hasn’t happened as of yet,” he also told the paper. I’m still in the New York State Assembly…There’s nothing etched in stone There’s all sorts of discussions. General Motors offered me a job, but I’m still here.”

Roberts did not return a message left by SoP at his district office in Syracuse last night.

The assemblyman said in 2013 that he was considering a potential run for mayor of Syracuse in 2017 when Miner will be barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

January 2015 letter to Gov Cuomo seeking additional CFE cash. by liz_benjamin6490

Nolan: Testing Opt-Out Bill in the Works

From the Morning Memo:

The anti-testing movement, which encourages parents to opt their kids out of the state’s standardized Common Core assessments, is getting some support from Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan.

During a CapTon interview last night, Nolan, a Queens Democrat, revealed her conference is “looking at legislation that would really reaffirm a parent’s right to opt out.”

“I think that we have to give parents some say here,” the assemblywoman said. “And it’s an obligation on the part of the Regents and the state Education Department to make sure that these tests are valid tests that reflect appropriately the diverse backgrounds of our children, the skill set is it the right skill set, the appropriate age level.”

“…We’ve heard from an awful lot of people on Long Island, and it has made an impact on me, and I hope it will make an impact on the Senate majority as well.”

Nolan noted that the testing “mania” (as she called it) coincided with her ascension to the position of Education Committee chair, and she now regrets some of the early support she gave to the idea that regular and rigorous testing was the best way to assess student performance.

“I sometimes feel, you don’t want to second guess yourself, (but) I have stepped from some of the initial support I gave it myself,” Nolan said.

“If I had to do it again, I would have opted my own son out from some of these tests. He would probably be happy to hear that now, he’s pretty much finished with them. But I think it created too much of a burden. We’ve kind of over-tested our children, so I think we really need to take a step back.”

Nolan’s comments come as leaders of Long Island’s anti-testing movement, whose boycott efforts captured national attention last year, are expanding their campaign as the April testing period approaches.

The testing question also figures prominently into the debate over teacher performance evaluations, as the governor has proposed making state test results 50 percent – instead of the current 40 percent – of the evaluation system, a move that is strongly opposed by the teachers unions that are closely allied with the Assembly Democrats.

CNY Assemblyman Swipes At de Blasio

Following news that NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner have teamed up to pressure Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fulfill the CFE settlement and make a big boost to education aid, Assemblyman Sam Roberts, a Syracuse Democrat, is accusing the downstate mayor of seeking additional state aid “at the expense of truly poor” urban and rural school districts upstate.

In a letter he sent to de Blasio yesterday (and released publicly today), Roberts notes that New York City has a $1.58 billion surplus and a sizable tax base – two things the majority of upstate communities lack.

According to de Blasio and Miner, the state owes New York City $2.6 billion and Syracuse $87.1 million as a result of never fully funding the settlement that resulted from the 2006 CFE case, which found New York was routinely shortchanging students in needy districts, thereby depriving them of their constitutional right to a sound basic education.

“The irony is that while New York City has a $1.58 billion surplus, it is requesting money based on CFE – the core principle of which is that district need and wealth should be taken into account in State funding allocations – and that poorer districts should receive higher State funding to account for a lower tax base,” the assemblyman wrote.

“…To fully comply with CFE, I would assert that NYC, who has greater resources, should contribute to the funding of its poorer neighbors and school districts within the state. The Assembly has focused its attention and funding on New York City for far too long at the expense of other 676 school districts statewide.”

Syracuse has been struggling to make ends meet for several years, with Miner warning that the city could be forced over the fiscal cliff if the state doesn’t step up and assist. She also is currently locked in a war of words with the governor over whether infrastructure funding trumps economic development funding, or vice versa. (He says the city, which recently experienced its 100th water main break so far this year, should pay for its own pipes and create some jobs before looking to the state for help).

Miner and Cuomo have had a rocky relationship for several years now. She was his hand-picked state Democratic Party co-chair, but stepped down from the post after criticizing him quite publicly on key policy proposals – most notably on the lack of attention to the fiscal woes of upstate communities and the failure to adequately address ballooning pension fund costs.

Roberts, like Miner and de Blasio, is a Democrat. He has been mentioned as a potential contender for Syracuse mayor in 2017 when Miner will be barred from seeking re-election due to term limits.

Assemblyman Sam Roberts' letter to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio by liz_benjamin6490

Senate Expected To Unlink Education Policy From Spending

The state Senate’s one-house budget resolution will likely support untying Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education policy proposals from spending, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan said.

The Democratic-led Assembly’s one-house resolution, submitted today, calls for increasing education aid by $1.8 billion and does not couple Cuomo’s education reform measures with appropriations.

“I believe the Senate and Assembly will be in unison on that approach,” Flanagan said.

The Senate’s education proposal is expected to boost spending for education by $1.9 billion and completely end the Gap Elimination Adjustment.

Cuomo’s own education reform measures are tied to much of his $1.1 billion boost, including a new teacher evaluation law, a strengthening of charter schools and making it easier for schools to fire poor-performing teachers.

Cuomo’s charter school support has had a warmer welcome among Senate Republicans, but the GOP conference has insisted on curtailing the GEA — cuts in spending for education first enacted at the onset of the recession.

Cuomo’s budget would raise the statewide cap on charter schools by 100 and increase per pupil tuition aid.

WFP’s 11th Hour Education Aid Push

Also from the Morning Memo:

The Working Families Party made a final frantic push yesterday in hopes of getting the Legislature to add a significant amount of education funding to the $377 million or $1.1 billion (depending on whether his reforms are accepted by lawmakers) that Cuomo proposed in his executive budget.

“The New York State Assembly and State Senate will be releasing their budget bills on Monday — including their proposals for education funding,” WFP State Director Bill Lipton wrote in an email sent to the party’s supporters last night.

“And we’re hearing that those proposals may end up containing significantly less than the $2.2 billion required to fully fund all of New York’s public schools and provide our kids with the small class sizes, full curricula, and other resources they need to succeed.”

“The budget proposals will shape the terms of upcoming negotiations between the Assembly, Senate, and Governor. The decisions on education being made by lawmakers over the next 48 hours are critical, and it’s just as critical that you make your voice heard before then.”

Lipton’s email included a link to an on-line petition calling for the Legislature to fully fund public schools and reject Cuomo’s “over-reliance on testing and privatization.”

It’s a safe bet that both the Assembly and the Senate will include additional education aid in their respective one-house budget proposals. Senate Education Committee Chairman Joh Flanagan, for example, has repeatedly called the $1.1 billion Cuomo proposed a “floor.”

But there will be some big differences in the one-house plans when it comes to education policy.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said during a radio interview late last week that there is not sufficient support in his Democratic conference to include the Education Investment Tax Credit in the chamber’s one-house budget bill. Heastie sponsored the tax credit in the past, but it is strongly opposed by NYSUT, which is closely allied with the Assembly Democrats.

Cuomo initially linked the tax credit and the DREAM Act, which the Assembly Democrats strongly support, in his 2015-16 executive budget, and then went one step further in his 30-day amendments, connecting both initiatives to TAP funding.

The Senate Republicans are big backers of the tax credit, but do not support the DREAM Act. Not only did the measure die on the Senate floor last year, but a number of the Republican conference’s new members actively campaigned against it during the 2014 election cycle.

The Assembly Democrats have already passed a stand-alone version of the DREAM Act, and say it should rise or fall on its own merits outside the budget process.

Report: State Still Owes Schools a Lot of Money

The state still owes schools $4.9 Billion in foundation aid as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity agreement.

That’s what a report out, Thursday, from the Alliance for Quality Education says. More than half of that – $2.5 Billion – is owed to New York City schools alone, dividing out to $2,667 per student.

The report details how much money (down to the dollar) is owed to schools in each Assembly and Senate district. AQE says it’s the first report of its kind to do this.

At the top of the list for the lower chamber is Assemblyman Philip Ramos from Long Island. Schools in his districts are reportedly owed $142,696,012. No, I did not misplace a comma. That is 142 million dollars.

The lowest number on that list is in Assemblyman David Buchwald’s district. Schools there are owed $11,942,233 according to the report. Buchwald’s district encompasses parts of Westchester County, which, admittedly does have higher property taxes than the rest of the state.

In the Senate, it’s much the same. Senator Phil Boyle’s district tops the list of dollars owed at $160,841,528. Boyle’s district is from the same area of Long Island, surrounding the Town of Islip.

Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson has the lowest number at $18,368,235. Her district lies in the Bronx.

The group is asking for the state to uphold its part of the bargain in the CFE case. Republicans in the State Senate have suggested cutting the Gap Elimination Adjustment to compensate for some of the lost aid, but advocates say that wouldn’t go far enough.

“For the vast majority of school districts and particularly for high-need school districts … the foundation aid is much more beneficial,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education. “A much higher proportion of what is due to those districts is foundation aid. In fact, of the GEA, only 34 percent is due to high-need districts. Of the foundation aid, 76 percent is due to high-need districts.”

Governor Cuomo’s proposing a $1.1 Billion increase in funding for the state’s education system as part of his budget. The Board of Regents (along with the Alliance for Quality Education) has said, however, that at least double of what the Governor’s proposing would be more appropriate.

Gubernatorial Delinquency Report

Senate Republicans Introduce Common Core Refusal Bill (Updated)

Two freshman Republican lawmakers this week introduced a bill that’s aimed at strengthening parents ability to have their children opt out from Common Core testing.

The measure, known as the Common Core Refusal Act, would require the state Department of Education to notify parents of their right to not have children in grades 3 through 8 participate in Common Core-based testing.

The bill was introduced by GOP Sens. Terrence Murphy and Rich Funke.

Updated: The bill is being carried by Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco in the Democratic-led chamber.

“This bill codifies that parents receive proper notification of their rights as it relates to refusing to have their children participate in these field tests,” the bill’s memorandum states. “More importantly, it protects school districts, individual schools, teachers, and students alike from facing any withholding of funds, state takeovers, sanctions, negative impact on a teacher’s evaluation or any other punitive measures associated with the outcomes related to test refusal.”

Specifically, the bill is taking aim at tests provided by Pearson, an education company that has provided Common Core-based testing and has come under scrutiny for its $32 million contract to administer the tests for the state.

The bill would require a “universal notification” posted on school district websites as well as a mailed notification to parents.

The measure would block punishment for not participating in the tests, including withholding state aid and include protections for both teachers and students.

The bill comes after a pitched election year debate over the controversial education standards in schools across the state.

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino ran on a newly formed Stop Common Core ballot line last year, which has now morphed into the Reform Party ballot line with a broadened agenda (to the consternation of anti-Common Core advocates).

Lawmakers estimate that 60,000 students last year declined to participate in Common Core-based testing.

Common Core has made for unlikely allies in New York and nationally for both conservatives who are skeptically of a nationally imposed education standard as well as teachers unions.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year negotiated a bill with the statewide teachers union that would delay the impact of Common Core testing on teacher evaluations.

But Cuomo ultimately vetoed that measure as he pursues this year a more stringent teacher evaluation law.