Education

Suburban School Districts Join Forces

A coalition of school districts from the New York City suburbs are forming a coalition to push for more equity in school funding in this year’s state budget.

The districts — known as the Harmed Suburban Five coalition — are Ossining Union Free School District, Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District, Glen Cove City School District, Riverhead Central School District and Westbury Union Free School District.

The coalition wants 80 percent of the Foundation Aid funding, which is the state average, as the individual districts receive less than 50 percent of the Foundation Aid given to them.

The districts say they’ve been negatively affected by a shortage in state funding that’s been coupled with a 15 percent increase in student enrollment as well as a 30 percent increase in students who are also English language learners. At the same time, there’s been a 25 percent drop in the combined wealth ratio, which measures a communities wealth.

Nearly half of the student population at these districts applies for three-year free or reduced price lunch.

“Our schools are suffering from the lack of adequate funding, and our children are paying the price. The state needs to give the school district the aid it deserves so that our kids don’t have to lose the resources they need and the classes they love,” said Beata Mione, an Ossining parent.

Sources: Nolan Departing Ed Committee Chair Post

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, an outspoken and passionate Queens Democrat, will be departing the Education Committee chairmanship to take the position as deputy speaker in the coming session, multiple sources at the state Capitol confirm.

Nolan will be replaced as Education Committee chair – a position she has held since 2006 and was given by former Speaker Sheldon Silver – by Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who, like the current speaker, Carl Heastie, is a Bronx Democrat.

Nolan and Heastie memorably clashed back in 2015 when they both vied for the speakership after Silver was forced to give it up due to the fact that he was facing federal corruption charges. Nolan was the only woman in the running for the position, and she stuck it out longer than the other contenders, even as it became increasingly clear that Heastie was quickly locking up the support necessary to win the leadership fight.

In the end, however, Nolan conceded, noting the historic nature of both her candidacy and Heastie’s – he’s the first African American speaker – and said that she was gratified to “have put at least a scratch in the glass ceiling for women.”

Sources rejected the suggestion that Nolan’s departure from the Education Committee was due to some long-simmering feud between herself and Heastie, saying she had decided she had served long enough and wanted a break.

The change also comes as most committee chairs – and many leadership posts – are poised to lose the stipends they carry known in Albany parlance as “lulus” if the recommendation of the pay compensation commission goes through. But since the Education Committee position and the deputy speakership are in line to lose their lulus, it’s hard to see how Nolan might gain by this change.

Under the proposal, the Assembly Democrats would have only five posts that carry lulus: speaker, majority leader, speaker pro tempore, and the chairs of the Ways and Means and Codes committees. (That last one is the subject of much debate and speculation, as Ken Lovett reported this morning).

Also, as of last week, the commission’s proposal, which also would dramatically limit lawmakers’ ability to earn outside income, while boosting their salaries to make them the highest paid state legislators in the nation, is the subject of a lawsuit brought by the Government Justice Center.

This change in the Assembly Democrats’ line-up comes at a time when the Senate Education Committee will also be under new leadership. Incoming Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins recently announced Sen. Shelley Mayer, of Yonkers, would be taking the reigns of that committee after its current occupant, Republican Sen. Carl Marcellino, was defeated by James Gaughran in November as part of the blue wave that swept the GOP out of the majority.

Board Of Regents Wants $2.1B Boost In School Aid

The state Board of Regents on Monday called for a $2.1 billion hike in foundation aid for schools in the 2019-20 school year, a move applauded by education advocates.

“The Board of Regents and I believe that all children should have access to a high-quality education regardless of their race, where they live or where they go to school,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said.

“The priorities and proposals put forth today build on the idea that every child in every school deserves to be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged; and they will ultimately allow the Department to implement programs to achieve this goal.”

The Regents outlined a package of goals for the foundation aid, including support for English language learners, career and technical education and money toward pre-kindergarten.

The two most largest items in the state budget are typically health care and education spending.

Typically state lawmakers propose funding for schools in line with what the Board of Regents has proposed, with the governor proposing a lower figure and negotiations producing a mid-range figure.

But education advocates this year are hopeful that a Democratic-controlled state Senate will nudge the ball forward on the school aid front.

“With the new reality in the New York State legislature, we hope that finally our students will receive the investment they have a right to by the state,” said the Alliance for Quality Education in a statement. “We urge the Governor to propose a budget that follows in the footsteps of the Board of Regents. We urge the Assembly and the Senate to be as adamant in the commitment to public schools and New York’s students as the Board of Regents has been. This year, the legislature must commit to a three year phase in of the Foundation Aid formula so the state can finally deliver on its obligation to provide ‘a sound basic education’ to all students.

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.

9 12 18.TitleIVFundsfor Firearms by Nick Reisman on Scribd

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.”