SED Memo Outlines Opposition To Guns In Schools

The state Education Department in a memorandum released Thursday outlined its refusal to accept federal funds for the training, purchasing or storage of firearms in schools.

The Education Department’s rejection of federal funding comes as the federal government has floated the possibility of bolstering school security against mass shootings by, among other proposals, have creating grants for weaponry in schools.

“The Department is focused on promoting a relationship of trust, cultural responsiveness, and respect between schools and families; ensuring that schools are safe havens for students and their teachers, where they are free to learn and teach, to laugh, and continually grow together,” the SED memo, released by Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa, states.

“There is nothing more important than the safety and security of our students, and we are committed to continuing to partner with you to advance social emotional learning and well-being to promote positive school climates. We simply cannot afford to use federal education dollars that are intended for teaching and learning to pay for weapons that will compromise our schools and communities.”

Department officials in a previous statement last month had rejected the initial idea of arming schools.

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SED Says Too Much Money Went To Charter Schools, 3 School Districts

The State Education Department over-allocated $12 million to local education agencies, a move that largely impacted charter schools, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia on Friday announced.

The $12 million is nearly 8 percent of the overall $153 million allocated to local education agencies in the state.

The error led to 275 charter schools and three school districts receiving too much money, leading to under-allocations to 677 school districts and 100 Special Act schools.

“The State Education Department regrets this unfortunate error and any undue burden it may place on schools,” Elia said. “We are taking immediate steps to correct it and ensure it does not happen again, including strengthening our internal controls. We will do everything possible to reduce the impact for all schools, including to reimburse 99 percent of districts this year.”

The Education Department plans to reduce a portion of funding received through Tital IIA from each LEA that was overpaid in the 2017-18 school year for up to five years in order to recoup the funding. That is expected to minimize the burden on the impacted schools, the department said.

For some of the state’s largest school districts — Buffalo, Rochester, East Ramapo and Syracuse — they will be made whole over a two-year period. New York City will be re-paid over a four-year period.

NYSED Condemns Trump Administration For Rescinding Diversity Guidance

The heads of the New York State Board of Regents and the State Education Department issued a joint statement Thursday, strongly criticizing the Trump administration for rolling back Obama-era federal guidance regarding affirmative action and diversity in schools.

Among the 24 documents rescinded earlier this week by Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a 2011 Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity and Avoid Racial Isolation in Elementary and Secondary Schools. Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the “abhor the Trump administration’s assault on policies that support positive environments for all children.”

They said the state, through implementation of programs like My Brothers’ Keeper and Every Student Succeeds Act plan, the state is working hard to achieve equity. They said studies have shown that diversity in classrooms and on campus benefit students of all races and ethnicities.

“In New York state, we must not let the federal government’s reprehensible action deter us in our work to integrate our classrooms,” they said. “It is time for our representatives in Washington to stop the president’s hurtful policies that intend to harm all students, particularly our underrepresented and economically disadvantaged populations. We ask our partners in education to join with us in condemning the administration’s latest heartless attack on our nation’s civil rights.”

The repealed documents were identified by the Department of Justice Regulatory Reform Task Force as items that were either unnecessary or improper rule-making. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, also issued a letter to the chairs of the SUNY and CUNY boards of trustees directing them to continue implementing the existing inclusion plans for higher education, as well as review the plans to make sure they’re effectively meeting the goals.

Moody’s: Tax Cap Hasn’t Impacted School District Credit

The credit quality of school districts has not been significantly impacted by school districts since the implementation of a cap on the increases they can make in property taxes, according to a reported Friday by Moody’s.

The report found increased state aid in the current 2018-19 state budget has helped offset some of the challenges created by the limit on tax levy increases, including the increase in pension costs.

The state budget included a $26.7 billion allocation of school aid, a 3.9 percent hike from the previous year.

But school districts after several years of decreases will see a hike in the annual required pensions contributions in the fiscal year, jumping from a 9.8 percent contribution rate to 11 percent.

The cap limited school districts to a 2 percent increase this year, up from the 1.26 percent ceiling in 2018. The average annual increase since the cap has been in effect since 2012 is 1.49 percent.

Out of 700 school districts, only 16 attempted this year to override the cap, with six being approved.

NYSUT Plans Parties… Or Protests

From the Morning Memo:

New York State United Teachers is planning a series of parties to take place across the state on Friday — that is as long as the state Senate votes and passes a bill decoupling teacher evaluations and standardized tests.

If the bill remains in committee though, the union warns those “thank you parties” could quickly turn into protests. In short, teachers plan on gathering outside nine district offices either way.

They are the office of these lawmakers:

  • Fred Akshar- R-Binghamton
  • George Amedore – R-Rotterdam
  • Rich Funke – R-Perinton
  • Chris Jacobs – R-Buffalo
  • Carl Marcellino – R-Syosset
  • Terrence Murphy – R-Yorktown
  • Tom O’Mara – R-Big Flats
  • Sue Serino – R-Hyde Park

Marcellino, the bill’s primary sponsor, is also the chair of the Education Committee where it remains stalled. NYSUT has already been working on nudging Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan to bring the bill to the floor with rolling billboards which will be circling the Capitol today.

The union has been pushing for the measure for years and with the Assembly already passing it and the governor indicating he would sign the bill, the Senate remains the final frontier.

**An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted the Senators listed had not sponsored the bill. In fact they are all among the 55 Senate co-sponsors.

Vast Majority Of School Budgets Pass, But That It’s Actually A Dip

The vast majority of school district budgets were approved by voters in New York on Tuesday, but it’s actually a decline from last year.

Of the 653 school district budgets considered, only 16 were defeated by voters.

The New York State School Boards Association, however, found that’s a percentage decline from a 99.3 percent passage rate last year to a 97.6 percent rate.

“School boards and their leadership teams put together budgets that were fiscally restrained yet responsive to the needs of their communities,” said NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer. “For example, in response to community concerns about school safety, many school boards allocated funding for school resources officers. At the same time, a state aid increase and use of reserve funds helped the vast majority of school boards stay within the property tax cap. Budget increases were conservative but few layoffs or cuts have occurred.”

School districts statewide proposed an average tax levy increase of 2.14 percent, with 662 district budgeting within the legal limit for increasing the amount collected in taxes. Of those districts, 98.6 percent had budgets approved. The tax cap has been in place for the last seven years.

Still, 14 districts had proposed tax levies that sought to bypass cap, seeking a 60 percent majority to override the move. Of those districts, half had budgets approved.

NY Graduation Rate Continues To Increase, But Achievement Gap Remains

New York’s graduation rate ticked upward by a half percentage point to 80.2 percent, an improvement of 11 percentage points from a decade ago, the state Education Department announced Wednesday.

The graduation rate, which reviewed the progress of students who entered high school in 2013, found it had approved from the 79.7 percent of students who graduated in the class of 2012.

Meanwhile, when factoring in August graduates, the graduation rate grew to 82.1 percent, exceeding a federal accountability threshold established in 2010. Growth in graduation rates also was seen in the state’s five largest school districts, Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Yonkers and New York City, all of which exceeded the statewide 0.5 percentage point average.

But it was not all good news: School districts with high needs and large city schools continue to have the lowest graduation rates in the state. A gap continues to be seen, too, among black and Hispanic students compared with white students.

SED found the achievement gap stands at about 20 percentage points, though it has been narrowed slightly over the last two years. Graduation rates also declined for English language learners.

“New York’s graduation rate continues its steady, upward trend,” said Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

“We see incremental improvements across the State, holding onto last year’s gains and slowly building upon them. And that’s good news. At the same time, however, troubling gaps in achievement persist, and we must accelerate the pace of improvement. With its focus on equity, the State’s newly approved ESSA plan will help drive the changes we need to ensure all children have the same opportunities for success.”

The graduation rates were cheered by the New York United Teachers, the statewide teachers union.

“Rising graduation rates show the positive effects of strong state aid increases that are coupled with tremendous work by educators and staff,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “In order to maintain this momentum, the state must fully meet the needs of school districts in this year’s budget.”

Top Education Leaders Call For Dream Act In Senate

Top education officials in New York on Tuesday called for the passage of the Dream Act in the state Senate after the Assembly approved the legislation a day earlier.

“We applaud Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the members of the New York State Assembly for their leadership in once again voting to pass the DREAM Act – legislation that will allow undocumented college students to participate in the state’s Tuition Assistance Program,” said Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa.

“We thank, as well, Governor Cuomo for his continuing support for this vitally important legislation. And we must once again call on the State Senate to act; the refusal of Senate leadership to support this legislation flies in the face of everything that New York stands for – equality, hard work, and a level playing field for all.”

The legislation would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, a group commonly referred to as dreamers. The bill has stalled in the Senate and it is unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate, where GOP lawmakers feel it unfairly punishes middle class families who have saved.

But the debate over immigration on the national level has led to a renewed push on immigration issues in New York, including the long-sought Dream Act.

“New York is the Empire State; we must lead the way, not blindly follow what now passes for leadership from our nation’s capital,” Rosa and Elia said. “The vast majority of Americans and New Yorkers support our Dreamers, and so do we. The Board of Regents and the State Education Department will continue to advocate for fairness and equity throughout our entire education system. It is time for the New York State Senate to join us as we seek to build a better, stronger, and more well-educated workforce. That is precisely what the Dream Act will deliver.”

School District Fiscal Health Improves

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office on Thursday reported 26 school districts around the state face a form “fiscal stress” on their budgets — a steep decrease from last year.

On the other end of the scale later in the day, Moody’s released a report finding school districts are in better financial shape in part thanks to an increase in allowable growth under the state’s tax cap.

In all, it’s some comparatively good news for school districts in New York that have struggled to make up ground in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis that led to an economic recession and decreased revenues.

“While it is welcome news that so few school districts across the state have been classified as in fiscal stress, school officials should remain vigilant and carefully consider how their budgeting decisions will affect their long-term fiscal condition and local taxpayers,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

School districts have sought to make changes under the tax cap, which limits levy increases to the rate of inflation or 2 percent, whichever is lower. This year, the cap will grow to 2 percent for the newly 700 districts in the state.

“Overall, the number of districts seeking tax-cap overrides has declined over the five years since the cap has been in effect for a variety of reasons,” the Moody’s report found. “Those reasons include conservative budgeting and otherwise strong financial management, flat to declining pension contributions and increases in state aid.”

Challenges still remain for school districts in New York, especially in upstate regions. DiNapoli’s office found 8.3 percent of the districts facing tough finances are in central New York and 8.1 percent are in the long struggling Southern Tier region.

Cuomo’s $168 billion budget proposal increases school aid y $769 million, with foundation aid due to grow by $338 million. Advocates have often sought increases of more than $1 billion — a difficult figure to reach this year given the tighter finances for the state.

Group Finds NY Has Made Strides On Education Standards

A report released Thursday by a group that’s backed education standards found New York has made strides on the issue following several years of contentious debate in Albany.

The report found the state has, along with 19 other states that adopted the Common Core standards, kept those standards closely aligned with the national model.

“New York educators, parents, and community leaders spent the last two years reviewing and improving the standards without compromising what matters most – a quality education for all students. The Next Generation Learning Standards continue the high expectations of Common Core, without the political baggage of the name. Like the vast majority of states that undertook a review process, these standards are a local revision, not a replacement,” said Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York. “Now we must ensure the smoothest possible implementation to give every student the chance to be on track for a successful future.”

The report found New York’s review of its standards was the longest and the most comprehensive and the state’s revised standards did not replace the controversial Common Core standards. At the same time, 41 states are still using education standards that are largely in line with Common COre.

Nationally, there are 21 states in the country that have finalized their review of academic standards that remain similar to Common Core.

“Our members need skilled employees now more than ever, and our schools must provide our children with the skills necessary to compete outside the classroom,” said Heather C. Briccetti, Esq., president and CEO of The Business Council of New York State, Inc. “This study proves that New York is leading the nation – not only by setting high standards, but by taking the time to listen to parents and teachers about improving them. Together, these steps are paving the way for a successful future for our children and the economic growth of New York State.”

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