Dubbed the 2015 “Opportunity” agenda in his State of the State address, the Governor’s proposal for education reform is anything but.
Cuomo crafted a teacher evaluation plan but recently vetoed his own bill in a stunning about face. He now wants to amend APPR by increasing the reliance on student test scores (50%), decreasing the importance of classroom observations and diminishing local control surrounding the components of the ratings system. In other words, Cuomo seeks to hijack public education at the local level by instituting punitive teacher accountability measures under the guise of education policy.
Cuomo proposes to implement a system that mirrors the Massacusetts turn around model. He touts the likely“success” of the this plan despite the fact that research clearly shows turn around plans are risky and rarely work in the education setting.
Cuomo purports to offer $1.1 billion in new school aid. The proposal does not address the issue of equitable funding and the sum is insufficient to meet the states constitutional funding obligation to students as a matter of law. In other words, Cuomo’s school aid proposal is disingenuous in that it is tanatmount to slapping a band aid across a painful, gaping, open wound that plagues public schools due to poverty, lack of funding and inequitable funding.
Cuomo’s proposal to lift the cap on charters statewide will denigrate the public school sector and will lead to privatized education and segregation along race and income strata.
Noticeably lacking from the Governor’s proposal, is a plan to eliminate the GEA. He failed to discuss fully funding existing mandates. He made no offer to provide equitable funding to schools and no mention was made to provide schools respite from having to teach and implement unproven reforms, such as the developmentally inappropriate pedagogy common core.
Many of his proposals, including raising the cap on charters and requiring independent paid evaluators to evaluate teachers would lead to huge inefficiencies and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The paid hours educators spent crafting the first evaluation system at the school level surely cost districts lots of money.
In his 2015 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo purports to provide “opportunities” to all public school children. Truth be told, the education “reforms” proposed by Cuomo, are opportunistic at best.
Governor Cuomo has drawn a line in the sand, conditioning a $1.1 billion increase in school funding to adoption of his new education reforms. If the legislators don’t submit to his demands, Governor Cuomo says that then, he will allocate only $337 million more to schools. And the burden of filling in the withheld funding will sadly fall then, as it has for years, on the local NY taxpayer.
NY’s public schools have been terribly underfunded for too many years now. The aid that the state is required to give schools has been reduced to fill in for other state budget gaps, even though these funds are mandated for education. (This is called the Gap Elimination Allowance (GEA), as the state’s school funds have been redirected to pay for other non-school items, filling in the state’s budget “gap.”) Roughly $1.1 billion is owed to school districts from this GEA diversion. Foundation Aid (required because of a determination by the NY Court of Appeals that low funding violated the constitutional right of children in poorer school districts to a sound basic education) has also been underfunded, again, in violation of what is legally required of the state. Roughly $5 billion in unpaid Foundation Aid is still owed, according to the Alliance for Quality Education. And the Governor has failed terribly to provide true mandate relief, as he promised with the implementation of his signature 2% tax levy cap, which means that districts almost always have to increase taxes as much as legally possible to make up for having to pay for state mandated requirements, even if the district doesn’t want or need them.
The result of all this underfunding is that local NY taxpayers have had to shoulder far more of the expense of public education than they should, because the state is not providing what it is legally required to. And while property taxes are capped at 2% (or the inflation rate, if that is less), had required state funding been provided as the law requires, many of our taxpayers would have faced no tax increase at all, or could even have seen their taxes go down. And as any NY taxpayer knows, this is no small matter; NY property taxes are extraordinarily high, with Westchester and Nassau Counties paying the highest average property taxes in the United States, according to CNN. . Senior citizens are selling their houses because of absurdly high taxes; others are forgoing essentials just to meet their tax payments.
Governor Cuomo must look beyond his personal agenda of increasing the stakes of standardized testing and bringing in private operators to run public schools – our citizens can’t afford it. He cannot condition funding on accepting his education demands. It is far too harmful to the ordinary citizen, and it makes for poor decision-making. Instead, the Governor should lead as voters hoped he would. He should engage in meaningful discussions about school issues with legislators, Regents, educators, experts, and parents, and then collectively determine what is best for all of our children. He should not force his agenda by threatening to withhold legally required education funding, at the very real expense of not just our children, but our overburdened taxpayers.
Plainly, this is a time when our Governor needs to show New Yorkers that it is a priority that all of Albany follows the law, and provides what is legally due to taxpayers and school districts. The good that would follow from this course, of repaying legal debts and making decisions based on thorough research and not on muscled threats, would go far beyond just helping our taxpayers; it would do much to begin to restore faith in the how our government operates. The Regents recommended increasing aid by $2 billion, far more than the $1.1 Governor Cuomo plans is holding for ransom. So, how will the necessary education plan be funded? Governor Cuomo’s plan is to pickpocket the NYS taxpayer.
Update Note: Letter Requesting School Aid Runs from Assemblyman Ed Ra