Archive for January, 2009

Senator Gillibrand

January 26th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

New York now has a second U.S. Senator, or will on Tuesday, when Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand is sworn in to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton.  The selection was made by Governor David Paterson; no other approvals are required.

Ms. Gillibrand currently represents a district that runs along the state’s eastern border, beginning in Dutchess County and running north into Essex County.  She was just elected to a second term this past November. Her name is pronounced “jill-uh-brand.”

She seems well-regarded by people active in education policy and has been visible in schools in her Congressional district.

A New York Times profile describes her as “a 42-year-old lawyer, … to politics born and bred, a relentless campaigner and fund-raiser, a competitive woman whose friends, unprompted, suggest she might someday soon seek the presidency.”  She grew up in a family prominent in Albany politics and once served as an aide to State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo when he served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton Administration.

Governor Paterson has taken a lot of criticism for his handling of the selection.  One commentator suggested he managed to offend three “royal families” in Democratic politics — the Kennedys, for bypassing Caroline and seeming to mangle the announcement of her withdrawal, the Clintons for considering Caroline after she had endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary during the presidential primary campaign; and the Cuomos for passing over Andrew.

The nature of the process allowed the Governor to make one friend while disappoiting two or six or 20 other men and women who felt they would make a fine U.S. Senator.

Senator Gillibrand would face two statewide elections in two years to retain the seat for a full term.  She would need to run in 2010 to win the right to serve the remaining two years in Hillary Clinton’s term and again in 2012 to win a full six-year term.

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Contingency budget cap will be 4% in 2009-10

January 22nd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Last week, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the Consumer Price Index for December was up 0.9 percent from a year ago.

With that figure it is now possible to say that the school district contingency budget cap for the 2009-10 school year will be 4 percent.

The cap is calculated as the lesser of 4 percent or 120 percent of the average monthly increase in the national Consumer Price Index over the calendar year preceding the school year – in other words the average increase for 2008 is used to calculate the cap for the 2009-10 school year.

Although, inflation in December was very low, it was much higher for most of the year.  The average monthly increase was 3.8 percent. 120 percent of that figure would be 4.56 percent, so that cap is set at the lesser figure of 4 percent.

These details raise a concern for the future.

With the drop in fuel prices and the downturn in the economy, we are in a period of low inflation.  The state budget that Governor Paterson released in December projected that the increase in the Consumer Price index for 2009 would be 1.4 percent.  Last week, however, his Budget Division revised that estimate downward. to 0.1 percent.

If that prediction comes true, the contingency budget cap in 2010-11 would be 0.1 percent.

The same calculation would apply in setting the school property tax cap in the Governor’s proposal.

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U.S. House Democrats provide details of plans for schools in stimulus package

January 22nd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Late last week, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives released details of their economic stimulus plan.  Our national affiliate, the American Association of School Administrators provides this summary of the education elements:

· $13 billion for IDEA over two years;

· $11 billion for Title I over two years;

· $2 billion for School Improvement Grants;

· $1 billion for Title II, Part D: Education Technology;

· $66 million for the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act;

· $250 million for states to develop longitudinal data systems;

· $14 billion for a new School Modernization and Repair Program (to be distributed under the Title I formula);

· $79 billion for a state stabilization fund, including $39 billion for states to back-fill funding cuts in their state K-12 and higher education funding formulas; $15 billion to be awarded to states based on their performance in three areas, including distribution of teachers, creation of longitudinal data systems and development of assessments for special education and ELL; and $25 billion for states to spend anywhere within their state budget, including education;

· $89 billion for Federal Medicaid Assistant Payments, which will provide necessary relief and reduce competition for limited state dollars between Medicaid and education; and

· $6 billion for broadband deployment.

The House Democrats have made district-by district estimates of the Title I and IDEA funds their proposal would deliver.

Their table includes this caution:  “These are estimated grants only. These estimates are provided solely to assist in making comparisons of the relative impact of alternative formulas and funding levels as part of the legislative process. They are not intended to predict specific amounts LEAs will receive. In addition to other limitations, much of the data that may be used to calculate final grants are not yet available.”

Again, these are just estimates and just for a proposal from just one house of Congress.

Also, the House plan would provide additional funding through a state stabilization fund and other vehicles.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she hopes that a bill will be passed before Congress leaves for its Presidents’ Day recess in February.

If the federal action allows discretion to states in allocating new funds, then there would be delays past February in establishing how much help individual districts could plan on.

Some conservatives have criticized plans to include education funding in the stimulus plan.  I’d note, however, that a regional school leader told me that the dozen or so districts in his mid-sized county estimate that may need to lay-off over 400 staff.  If one private sector employer announced plans to lay-off so many workers, it would almost certainly be front page news.

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New York dominates Intel Science Talent Search — again

January 15th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday, the Intel Corporation announced the 300 semi-finalists in its nationwide Science Talent Search.  New York again dominated the competition, producing 114 winners, more than four times as many as the next closest state (California with 25).  My count is that over 100 of New York’s semi-finalists attend public schools.

Newsday notes that Long Island schools alone account for 59 on New York’s semi-finalists, with 56 attending public schools.

The Council has repeatedly noted that New York is home to some of the nation’s strongest public schools.  Our perennial domination of the Intel Science Talent Search is one piece of evidence.  Our public schools accounted for more than a third of the national semi-finalists last year as well.  Some states surpass us in results on national standardized tests, but it appears that few match us in providing exceptional learning opportunities for public school students.

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Schumer, Paterson eye stimulus funds for schools

January 14th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Earlier in the week, Governor David Paterson and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announced that they are seeking inclusion of a “flexible P-16 (PreK through higher education) block grant in the anticipated federal stimulus package.

Newspaper accounts report that Senator Schumer said that it is “likely” that the federal bailout package will include about $80 billion for education programs.  He believes New York schools and colleges could receive as much as $6.4 billion over two years from this aid.

Timing is a key issue for school leaders now developing budgets — when will they know if federal help is forthcoming and how much will their districts receive.  U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she hopes that a bill will be passed before Congress leaves for its Presdents’ Day recess in February.

Referring to the funding as a “block grant” suggests that the states could have some discretion over how it would be distributed.  So even if Congress and the president act by mid-February district allocations may not be settled until a later date.

Senator Schumer also made clear that the school funding he and Governor paterson are seeking is in addition to an increase in the federal share of Medicaid costs, which could generate $5 billion for New York State.

Tomorrow (February 15), the Governor is expected to release his “30-day” amendments to the budget he proposed last month.  With the sour economic news over the intervening weeks (including a 9.8 percent drop in December retail sales compared to a year ago), it’s probable that the Governor will report that the state’s deficits have grown.

In the budget he unveiled in December, the Governor said that the state faced a projected deficit of $13.  billion, which proposed to close through a combination of spending cuts ($9.5 billion), new revenues ($3.1 billion) and non-recurring items (commonly referred to as “one shots”) totaling $1.1 billion.

To add back enough School Aid to have significant benefit for school budgets, the state will need to turn to some “non-traditional” funding sources.  The traditional sources of more optimistic revenue projections and cuts to other areas can’t generate adequate sums.

While usually the Legislature’s economic optimism proved justified in the past, the opposite fate seems more likely now.  And other areas of the state budget are already targeted for steep cuts.

Also the Legislature will want to make restorations of cuts to other budget areas and perhaps forego some of the tax and fee increases that Governor Paterson recommended.

So the best hope for the state and the schools is probably help from a federal stimulus package.

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Council’s analysis of Governor Paterson’s proposed education budget now available on-line

January 14th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

The Council’s analysis of Governor Paterson’s proposed budget for education is now available online.

Its title — “Kids First” — is intended to convey two meanings: first a request to state leaders to put children at the top of their priorities in constructing a state budget, and second, a principle recommended by veteran superintendents to guide local decision-making in developing school district budgets.

As always, the analysis provides a summary of the specific proposals comprising the Governor’s education budget, evaluation of the potential impacts on different types of districts, and some discussion of the larger context for this year’s budget.

A key theme is that the Foundation formula enacted in 2007 put schools in a much stronger position going into the current downturn.  Through it, the Administration and the Legislature made themselves more accountable for their school funding decisions — by projecting detailed aid increases for each district over a four-year phase-in period and by using aid factors that can be understood and debated.

In a section titled “One Investment That Is Paying Off,”  we explain that strong state increases of recent years have reduced property tax pressures and improved equity in school finance.  It is harder to claim a direct relationship between aid and academic outcomes, but there have also been broad gains in state tests results and improvement in graduation rates.

The analysis includes a discussion of the

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Reviewing the Bush legacy in education

January 6th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Over the weekend, the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin offered a comprehensive look at the impact of President Bush and the No Child Left Behind Act on schools in New York State.

The article concludes with a quote from vestal superintendent Mark Capobianco explaining that whatever happens in the future, the NCLB has had a major, long-lasting impact by pushing a new, major role for the federal government in schools.  “The idea that the federal government will hold schools accountable for student performance and use some form of accountability system to rate schools is now entrenched and isn’t going away, Capobianco said,” and it’s “‘had a profound impact on what’s going on in the classroom.'”

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State of the Legislature…

January 6th, 2009 by Robert Lowry

There is still no official resolution of the question of which party will exercise control over the State Senate. There is increasing speculation, however, that Democrat Malcolm Smith will prevail, ending more than 40 years of Republican control.  A vote for Majority Leader is scheduled for tomorrow — Wednesday, January 7.

Meanwhile the group that tagged our state has having the “most dysfunctional” state legislative process in the nation, concludes that our legislature is “Still Broken.”  That is the name of a new report by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.  Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver vehemently disputes

I’m not sure how one weighs relative dysfunctionality across states, and it sounds like a depressing excerise to pursue.  But from speaking with counterparts with superintendents associations in other states, I conclude that “the grass is not necessarily greener” elsewhere.  Whatever their procedural shortcomings, at least our state legislature chambers are not overtly hostile to public education, as in some states.  Year after year, the legislature has made education funding a priority.  In any event, we don’t have the option of lobbying another state’s legislature.

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Federal Medicaid funds to help state budgets?

January 3rd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has written that cutting public spending in a recession could cause more harm than raising taxes in a recession.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman picked up on that theme this week, warning that current conditions could turn the nation’s governors into “50 Herbert Hoovers” — modern day versions of the U.S. president faulted (somewhat unfairly) for failing to respond effectively to the onset of the Great Depression.

Both Stiglitz and Krugman explain that governors don’t have the luxury of the nation government of running deficits year after.  States must annually balance their budgets, forcing the choice between spending cuts or tax increases.  Krugman argues for federal funding to address national problems currently borne by states — education, health care, and infrastructure.

As explained in another recent post, Governor Paterson has written to the incoming Obama administration to request inclusion of help for the state in a federal economic stimulus plan.

But stimulus projects are, by definition, short-term in nature and presumably cannot be counted upon to provide permanent fiscal relief for state government.

One area where the federal government could provide lasting help would be in taking over a larger share of the cost of Medicaid.  Senator Chuck Schumer says that the Obama Administration’s plan will include an increase in the federal share and that could give New York State $5 billion in additional aid — a sum approaching about one-third of the state’s projected state budget deficit over the next 15 months.

Historically, New York leaders have argued that the federal Medicaid sharing formula has shortchanged New York and other large states because the share is adjusted based on state per capita income.  That measure fails to recognize that a state with higher than average incomes can also have a higher than average share of disadvantaged people needing help with medical care.

The Buffalo News editorializes in support of the change, while warning that it cannot be taken as an excuse to avoid making structural changes in public services and how they are funded.

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