Archive for April, 2009

Daunting data demands attached to stimulus aid

April 3rd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

The New York Times reported yesterday that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan wrote to the 50 governors to advise them that the first round of federal stimulus aid for education was being released and that states will be required to report extensive data to qualify for a second round of funding later this year.

The Times explained, “Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told the nation’s governors on Wednesday that in exchange for billions of dollars in federal education aid provided under the economic stimulus law, he wants new information about the performance of their public schools, much of which could be embarrassing.”

The article continues,

The data is likely to reveal that in many states, tests have been dumbed down so that students score far higher than on tests administered by the federal Department of Education.

It will also probably show that many local teacher-evaluation systems are so perfunctory that they rate 99 of every 100 teachers as excellent and that diplomas often mean so little that millions of high school graduates each year must enroll in remediation classes upon entering college.

A copy of Secretary Duncan’s letter is available here.

New York State probably starts ahead of most states in the data it collects from schools and reports to the public.  But state officials have said they nonetheless find the new reporting requirements daunting.

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Senate back at work, passing budget bills; Comptroller pans budget; MTA stalled (UPDATED)

April 3rd, 2009 by Robert Lowry

UPDATE (April 4, 2009, 2:10 pm):  The State Senate just passed the education budget “language” bill to amend statutory School Aid formulas and enact other portions of the state budget agreement announced earlier this week.  The Senate had previously passed the education appropriations bill. The Assembly passed all state budget bills on Monday.

The Senate still has more budget bills to consider.  But both houses have now passed the bills needed to implement the education portions of the state budget.


After two false starts due to the illness of one member of its narrow Democratic majority, the State Senate is is now engaged in a rare Friday session, attempting to finish passing state budget bills.

Yesterday, the education appropriations bill passed on a party line vote, 32 Democrats for, 30 Republicans against.

The budget is comprised of a total of nine appropriations and “language” bills.  In simplified terms, the appropriations bills spell out how much is to be spent for each program or activity and the language bills provide direction in some cases for how money is to be allocated and spent from the appropriations.

The School Aid portion of the budget cannot be said to be “done” until the education language bill passes.  It is being debated on the Senate floor now.

The education language bill includes, for example, provisions allocating federal stimulus funds to eliminate the School Aid Deficit Reduction Assessment proposed in the Governor’s original budget.

Meanwhile, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a statement on Wednesday criticizing the budget.

The Comptroller said:

This is essentially a buy-time budget, based on a hope that the economy recovers quickly. It’s a very fragile basket to place all the taxpayers’ eggs in. Instead of using the Federal stimulus to restructure the financial plan and match projected revenues to long term growth in spending, the budget uses stimulus funds as a short-term fix.

Governor Paterson himself has expressed fears that the budget may not remain balanced throughout the entire fiscal year, required him and the legislators to consider additional cuts, revenues, or both.

The vast majority of the state’s federal stabilization aid for education was used to eliminate the Governor’s proposed School Aid Deficit Reduction Assessment (DRA).  In the context of the Governor’s original budget proposal, that choice could be portrayed as prudent:  the stabilization money is time-limited, but the DRA was also advertised as a one-time cut.

An alarming aspect of the budget is that the projected deficit for 2009-10 widened by $4.7 billion in just the last two months.  The agreed-upon budget had to close a structural deficit now projected at $17.7 billion.

Whatever the state’s fiscal prospects, we know that schools face mounting cost pressures in future years.  For example, the stock market downturn is expected to force sharp increases in employer contribution rates for pensions starting a year from now.  So efforts at structural reform continue to be needed.

The Assembly has left Albany for the week.  So there will be no action on a financial rescue plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

News reports indicate that some of the suburban Democratic Senators seem to have become more forthright in expressing opposition to a payroll tax on employers, including school districts, as one component in a rescue plan.

The Associated Press reports,

Paterson raised the possibility of a special legislative session to work out a transit bailout deal, possibly after the Easter-Passover holiday.

“You could have a special session … where everybody would just have to stay there until they work it out,” he said. “I’m not saying that that has to be the answer, but I’m saying that the situation is critical enough that it makes me think of it.”

As we reported earlier, one estimate is that the proposed payroll tax would cost school districts in the MTA region over $33 million.

Tying together the Governor’s MTA timeline and the school budget approval timeline set in state law,  affected school districts are threatened with having to accommodate a significant state mandated cost after their boards adopt budgets submission to their voters.

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U.S. Education Department issues new guidance on federal stimulus funds

April 1st, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Today the U.S. Education Department issued extensive new guidance on funding streams available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus package.

It’s a lot to wade through — over 200 pages concerning K-12 programs.  Some of it is more pertinent to state officials than local school leaders.

All the various pieces are available here; look for items dated April 1.

Here’s where to find some specific items:

Title I Guidance — see pages 24-30 for questions and answers on maintenance of effort and “supplement, not supplant” questions.

IDEA, Part C Guidance — see pages 14-19 for questions and answers on allowable uses of funds; starting with question D-6 (on p. 16) the guidance addresses the ability of districts to use IDEA aid increases to reduce state/local spending on special education.

We’ll probably have more on all this before too long.

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State budget — one done, one to go; MTA action uncertain

April 1st, 2009 by Robert Lowry

Last night, the State Assembly passed the nine bills comprising the state budget before midnight.  Delayed in part by the temporary absence due to illness of one of the Senators in the narow Democratic majority, the State Senate passed only one of the budget bills be recessing for the evening.  The Senate is expected to complete action today.

The Legislature took the unprecedented step of putting major tax provisions — including income tax increases on upper income New Yorkers — into the same bill that enacts School Aid provisions.  Presumably this was done to make it easier for Legislators to vote yes (or harder to vote no).

As a consequence, a lot of the Assembly debate on the education budget language bill focused on state tax issues, not School Aid.  Republicans raised questions about why the bill did not include school mandate relief initiatives.  The response from the Democratic Chair of the Ways and Means Committee was that those issues could be considered during the remainder of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, prospects for action on a “bailout” plan for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority this week seem uncertain.

The New York Times reports that four Democratic Senators representing New York City suburbs are resisting proposals which would include a payroll tax on employers, including school districts.

By one estimate, a .33 percent tax on payrolls would cost more than $33.5 million to school districts in the seven counties neighboring New York City within the MTA region.

With completion of Senate action of the state budget delayed into today, and the difficult votes still to come in that process, tackling a controversial MTA plan this week might exceed the Senate Democrats capacity for unity.

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