Nick Reisman

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AQE, Citizen Action Knock Test Scores

The Alliance for Quality Education and Citizen Action blasted the unimpressive state test scores today, saying the results show the state is doing little to improve education and ensure students are ready for college.

In a joint statement, the AQE Chairwoman and Citizen Action Executive Director KAren Scharff said the achievement gap for black and Hispanic students was especially troubling.

“The statewide test scores released today, by the State Education Department, show that New York State is failing to prepare many of our students for college or careers. The racial achievement gap and the continued deferment of CFE are especially alarming. Next month, many public school students, from Buffalo to Long Island, will find their schools closed, their teachers gone, or successful programs such as after school, tutoring and advanced placement courses eliminated. These impacts are a direct result of the decision to give a multi-billion tax dollar cut to the richest New Yorkers. The Governor and the Legislature can help our students succeed by renewing the tax before it expires on December 31, 2011, and restoring school funding to improve education for our 2.7 million schoolchildren,” said Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York and Board Chair of Alliance for Quality Education.

The state Education Department released test results for students grades 3 through 8 showing little year-to-year improvement in most districts, including the Big 4 cities of Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers. Commissioner John King said in a statement that the test scores were “stubbornly flat.” State education officials also used the announcement as a sign that the Regents examinations need to be overhauled in order to prepare students for college.

Assembly Candidate Says Office Was Robbed

Jesus Gonzalez, a candidate for the Brooklyn Assembly seat vacated by Darryl Towns, says his campaign office was robbed at gunpoint Friday night, his campaign announced today.

The thieves made off with two computers and a cell phone at around 9 p.m. on Friday. A campaign worker was present in the office at the time of the robbery, Gonzalez’s campaign said.

“The campaign appreciates the efforts of the police to identify these men,” said the Gonzalez campaign in a statement. “We are taking this crime seriously, as we do all violent crimes that take place in this community. We must work hard to ensure this is a community in which no one feels unsafe.”

The special election to fill Towns’s seat is being held Sept. 9. Towns was elevated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lead the state Housing Authority. He was arrested and charged with a DWI in July.

State Test Scores Remain Largely Flat

Test scores in English and math for students in grades 3 through 8 remained largely flat, with most districts showing a slight decline in scores.

Overall, students meeting the grade for math edged up slightly from 61 percent 63 percent, while English exam scores fell from 53.2 percent to 52.8 percent passing.

The state Education Department pinned the lower scores on increased proficiency standards that were raised last year in attempt to better reflect whether a student is achieve college-level scores on future exams.

Education officials said this recent batch of scores was evidence that the state needed to move quickly on overhauling the Regents examinations.

“Student outcomes have been stubbornly flat over time. The Regents reform agenda is designed to change that, by driving long-term gains in student performance,” said Commissioner John King.

“Better tests are only one part of the reform strategy. We’re also moving forward in our efforts to ensure better training and better support for the teachers and principals in our schools; to provide more transparent and useful data; and to help our lowest performing schools take the necessary steps to turn around their performance or replace them with innovative alternatives.”

“Taken together, these efforts will dramatically improve the likelihood that New York’s students are well-prepared for college and careers.”

The results show scores are down in all four of the state Big Five school districts – Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers and Syracuse – while they are up in slightly both math and English in New York City. (Corrected). The achievement gap for black and Hispanice students also remains wide, the Education Department said.

More >

Teachers Unions: News Corp. Wireless Contract Raises Concerns

A $27 million no-bid contract between the state Department of Education and News Corp. subsidiary is cause for concern given the ongoing hacking scandal in the United Kingdom, the state United Teachers and United Federation of Teachers wrote in a letter released publicly today.

The letter, sent Thursday to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner John King, says the contract with News Corp should be scrutinized. The proposed contract is with Wireless Generation, a News Corp-owned company.

“As events unfold, we have become increasingly concerned with the proposed contract. It is especially troubling that Wireless Generation will be tasked with creating a centralized database for personal student information, even as its parent company, News Corp., stands accused of illegal news gathering tactics, including the hacking of private voicemails.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and NYSUT President Richard Ianuzzi also write that it is “imperative proper safeguards” are put in place in order to ensure student privacy.

So far, the hacking scandal that has engulfed the British tabloid press and politics has not made its away across the Atlantic to the company’s American properties. However, New York Post editor Col Allan told news room employees earlier this month to not delete any emails that may be used in a U.S. investigation.

Letter to Chancellor Tisch and Commissioner King

Hugh Carey, 92, Has Died (Updated)

Former New York Gov. Hugh Carey, a Democrat led the state during one of its most difficult financial times, died this morning in New York City. He was 92.

Carey, the state’s 51st governor, served from 1975 to 1982.

He took the helm just as New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy. Working with government leaders, businesses and union officials, Carey managed avoid a fiscal crisis.

Carey also took the steps of cutting taxes and capping tax growth, later become the first Democrat to be re-elected to a second term in decades. He’s also been credited with reforming the state’s system of treatment for the developmentally disabled, signing the Willowbrook Consent Decree, which limited the number of patients that can be housed in a facility.

Carey declined to seek a third term, making room for his ambitious lieutenant governor, Mario Cuomo, to seek the job.

He had also considered running for president, but the death of his wife in 1974 was likely a contributing factor against launching a national campaign.

Carey has been an inspiration for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who distributed copies of his biography, “The Man Who Saved New York” to union leaders, lawmakers and aides.

“Declaring that the days of wine and roses were over, Governor Carey looked to statesmanship and compromise, rather than partisanship or parochialism, to get the state’s fiscal house in order,” the Carey family said in a statement released by Cuomo’s office. “He called for shared sacrifice and asked all New Yorkers to come together. New Yorkers across the state heard the Governor’s call to action, followed his lead, and the ship was righted.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a statement expressing “extraordinary sadness” upon hearing the news of Carey’s death.

“It was with extraordinary sadness that I learned of the death of my friend and mentor in public service, Governor Hugh Carey, this morning. When I first considered running for office, Hugh was one of the first people I spent a lot of time with. His strong and determined leadership, and his ability to bring people together to fix the most difficult problems, saved New York City during one of the toughest times in our history, and set the stage for the City’s incredible rebirth in the years and decades that followed. Mayors Koch, Dinkins, Giuliani, and I have all stood on the shoulders of this son of Brooklyn, whose political fortitude was matched only by his personal integrity.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., gives credit in a statement to Carey for developing the “plan that saved New York.”

“Governor Carey rose from the streets of his beloved Brooklyn to the halls of power in Washington DC and Albany, but was always rooted in his Irish heritage, his faith, his extraordinary commitment to family and his love for New York and this nation. New Yorkers will remember in 1975 when the state was on the brink of bankruptcy, Hugh Carey stepped forward and assembled a courageous team to come up with an ambitious, but difficult, plan that saved New York for future decades of prosperity. He steered the ship of this state away from fiscal calamity and toward brighter days of responsible budgeting and forward-thinking policy decisions, rooted in the common good and not in special interests or partisan politics. Hugh Carey created a legacy that few other New Yorker can claim. I express my deepest condolences to his family and all who loved him.”

Cuomo: Debt Ceiling Crisis Didn’t Help

The spectacle of the debt ceiling debate in Washington did little to improve the national economy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a bill singing ceremony this afternoon.

Cuomo, however, said a major crisis was averted after lawmakers and President Obama signed off on a debt-reduction deal that averted a default. Cuomo said it is not yet apparent what impact the cuts on the federal level will have on the state.

“I think the episode in Washington with the debt ceiling — I do not think that was helpful,” Cuomo said. “The best news is it could have been worse. A default, I think, really would have wreaked havoc on the economy.”

Meanwhile, the worldwide economy doesn’t appear to be in good shape today. Stocks are down across the globe and the Dow Jones is sinking 400 points.

“Obviously, like every American, I’m significantly concerned,” Cuomo said. “The first few months, the economy was going well, it was going well in this state. I think people are feeling good about this state and they’re feeling good about the trajectory of the state and the economy of the state. The revenue reports for the first few months were positive.”

The contretemps over the debt in Washington, has by comparison made Albany appear to be governable. Cuomo has made government competency a cornerstone of his administration and, for now, has achieved the appearance of a functioning state capital.

The Legislature approved an on-time budget and approved multiple pieces of long-sought legislation that in some cases had been stuck in gridlock for decades. Among those long-sought bills was the power-plant siting law known as Article X, that Cuomo signed into law today.

And while Cuomo insisted President Obama should win re-election a year and dismissed talk of running in 2016 (or that he would like to face a one-term GOP president in five years), didn’t take the typical Democratic line of bashing House Republicans or knocking the tea party. He added that Obama’s leadership “in part” helped avert a default.

“I think the best thing you can say there was not a default,” Cuomo said. “The whole world watched what was less than a flattering political process. Ultimately, the leadership stopped the default and to me that was everything. I think thanks in part to the president’s leadership, that was avoided.”

Assembly Dems: We’ll Follow Prisoner Law

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Jack McEneny released a joint statement this afternoon pledging to follow the law that requires prisoners be counted as residents of their last known addresses, not where their facility is located.

And the lawmakers say they have updated figures from the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which will soon be released.

The statement comes as LATFOR, the lawmaker-driven task force charged with redrawing legislative boundaries based on new Census data, is currently using the old way of counting prisoners.

The law is being challenged by some Senate Republicans in a lawsuit, who would likely lose population in their districts if the measure is upheld. Republicans hold a thin 32-30 majority in the Senate.

Republicans have argued that the bill was passed through the budget, a possibly dubious way of approving a policy issue like redistricting. The law was enacted when Democrats controlled the Senate for a two-year term.

LATFOR will hold a meeting in Albany Thursday at 10 a.m.

Of course, this could all be moot. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged to veto lines drawn by lawmakers and throw the process to the courts.

Here’s the Assembly statement:

Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring that prison inmates be counted in their home communities rather than their incarceration address for the purpose of redistricting. The Assembly Majority believes that complying with the law as written is not only the prudent thing to do, it is also the right thing to do. In order to comply with the law, Assembly staff have been working with the original inmate records provided by Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to ensure inmates are counted properly. Our work is nearly complete and the results will be made public in the near future.

We urge our task force members to join with us, ensuring compliance with both the letter and intent of the law. This is the responsible action for the Legislature to take. Regardless of any personal political stance on the prison count issue, we encourage all task force members to join us in our effort to fully comply with the law as it is written.

Quietly, CPI Expands View Of Lobbying Law

Two weeks after lawmakers sealed a deal that would essentially abolish the Commission on Public Integrity, the ethics watchdog quielty posted an advisory opinion on its website that put a wedge in Albany’s revolving door.

The case is a bit complicated, but essentially the commission rescinded a previous year’s ruling and expanded the intrepretation of laws governing former state employees moving over to the lobbying side.

Here’s what happened: In 2010, a former state Department of Health employee who was involved in setting budgets and, in a previous role, developing regulations, became executive director of an advocacy group. She asked the CPI for an advisory opinion to determine whether she was violating the state’s lifetime ban on lobbying.

At the time, the commission ruled:

“… that the lifetime bar only prohibits a former State employee from subsequently rendering services on the same “case, proceeding, application or transaction.” The Commission determined that once the “legislative/regulatory creation” has been completed, however, the lifetime bar does not prohibit a former State employee from rendering services repudiating the program that he or she worked to create.”

But in June, the commission decided in a rare move to reverse itself. And, rarer still, the commission’s ruling included two dissenters who warned of the “grave implcations of the reversal.”

The broader definition of the lifetime ban comes as the CPI itself will likely be dismantled in favor of the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which will oversee both the executive and legislative branches.

Cuomo is actually yet to sign the measure into law and the members of JCOPE are yet to be announced.


Cuomo Calls For Non-Profits Probe

Gov. Andrew Cuomo today called for an investigation into executive compensation at non-profits receiving taxpayer dollars and formed a cabinet-level task force to probe the organizations.

“Not-for-profits that provide services to the poor and the needy have a special obligation to the taxpayers that support them. Executives at these not-for-profits should be using the taxpayer dollars they receive to help New Yorkers, not to line their own pockets. This task force will do a top-to-bottom review, not only to audit current compensation levels, but also to make recommendations for future rules to ensure taxpayer dollars are used to serve and support the people of this state, not pay for excessive salaries and compensation,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The investigatory body will be headed up by New York State Inspector General Ellen Biben, Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales, the Medicaid Inspector General Jim Cox, and the Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky, Cuomo’s office said.

The announcement follows a New York Times story that found executive pay at a Medicaid-financed home for the disabled ran more than $1 million.

Cuomo, in the news release, called the pay “startlingly excessive.”

Currently there are no laws on the books governing executive pay at non-profits that receive state aid.

Diaz To Gillibrand: Where Were You? (Updated)

As Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand took her lumps from both the left and the right on her vote against the debt deal, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, D-Bronx, is coming to her defense upbraiding her for what he says is a “janus-nature” when it comes to taxing the rich.

Update: Whoops, it looks like I misread the release. Diaz is actually blasting Gillibrand for failing to speak up earlier on New York’s budget cuts.

Diaz, who voted against the 2011-12 state budget that included deep cuts in social services and education spending, said it was akin for not voting for keeping a surcharge on those making $1 million or more.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo steadfastly opposed keeping the tax on the wealthy, as did Senate Republicans, over the objections of Democratic state lawmakers.

Diaz says Cuomo “started the trend” of making deep cuts without raising taxes on the rich, and knocked Gillibrand for failing to speak up at the time.

Gillibrand said her vote against the debt deal was no because of the lack of revenue raisers (or tax increases) in the plan.  Gillibrand’s no vote was quickly criticized by her possible Republican opponent, George Maragos, and the state GOP committee.

Gillibrand, who is running for re-election in 2012, has emerged as a major advocate of LGBT causes, while Diaz is a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage.

Here’s the Diaz statement after the jump. More >