Archive for March, 2010

Governor delays School Aid, again

March 31st, 2010 by Robert Lowry

Yesterday (March 30) Governor Paterson announced the state will delay $2.1 billion in School Aid payments planned to be made today.

The Governor’s news release says, “The State intends to meet the June 1 statutory deadline for making this payment, assuming sufficient cash is available at that time.”

Here is a district-by-district list of the delayed payments.

We are gathering information on how this will affect individual districts.  But coming with essentially no notice, districts are scrambling to determine what they need to do.  That is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Governor’s action.

Imagine the reaction if Washington had delayed a comparably-sized payment to the state with so little warning.  Or if, with a single day’s notice, an employer advised all employees that their next paychecks would be reduced by 10 percent of their annual pay.

Like the Governor, superintendents must manage budgets.  We can respect the hard choices state leaders must make.  But the state’s cash flow concerns have been widely advertised for some time.  Why couldn’t the Governor give schools more than a single day’s notice before announcing that an average of 10 percent of their annual aid payments would be delayed for two months — or more?

If the delay is part of a strategy to leverage legislative action toward a timely budget, it makes less sense.  The Legislature is not in town to take action.  To have that effect, again the announcement should have been made last week, or before.

Beyond the impact on the current year’s budget, the delay also disrupts work on proposed budgets for the coming year, which must be adopted by April 24 for submission to the voters in May.

Some districts would choose to draw from their undesignated fund balance to accommodate the aid delay.  But the overwhelming majority of districts also plan to draw from those funds in assembling their proposed budgets for next year — to reduce layoffs or local tax increases that would otherwise be needed.  For example, without the sums they withdrew from undesignated reserves this year, districts would have had to raise local taxes by an average of 4 percent more, or to make cuts of corresponding magnitude.

Without absolute assurance that the aid will be paid by the end of the school year in June, some district leaders will be reluctant to count on those reserves to help balance the budgets they propose for the next school year.

The lawsuit that the Council, New York State United Teachers, New York State School Boards Association, and the School Administrators Association of New York State challenging the Governor’s December aid withholding is still underway.  Oral arguments are planned for June.

A primary motivation for the lawsuit was to prevent the precedent of a Governor disregarding state laws which establish aid formulas and payment schedules and prescribe that the state pay certain amounts by certain dates.  However, yesterday’s action by the Governor affects a payment which the state may not be not required to make until June 1st.  Since the current state aid payment schedule was first enacted in the early 1990s, the state has made this payment early in every year but one.

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It’s official: NYS misses Race to the Top winner’s circle

March 29th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The U.S. Education Department has confirmed that Delaware and Tennessee are the only first round winners in the federal government’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top (RTTT) systemic reform initiative.

New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner issued this response,

While our application placed us among the finalists, the United States Education Department has announced that New York is not among the two first round winners in the Race to the Top competition. We will closely analyze the USED reviewers’ response and will revisit our application with a view to submitting a successful second round plan that advances the Regents’ education reform agenda. Critical to a positive outcome will be the legislative changes the Regents proposed prior to the submission of the Round 1 application – changes that will not only strengthen our application, but will bring important benefits to education in New York State. For the sake of our 3.1 million children, we cannot allow this critical opportunity to undertake vital reforms to slip away.

The Department announced that, “Delaware will receive approximately $100 million and Tennessee $500 million to implement their comprehensive school reform plans over the next four years.”

A second round of competition will be conducted, with applications due on June 1.  The selection of only two states as winners, one small and one mid-sized, leaves roughly $3.4 billion on the table for round two.

The Washington Post noted, “Duncan’s decision to name only two initial winners gives the Obama administration continued leverage to upend the status quo in public education. It also squelches any suggestion that Duncan would seek to spread the money around as much and as fast as possible to help Obama win favor in key political states.”

The New York Times reports that Georgia and Florida finished third and fourth.

The Times also described the priorities of the RTTT initiative and observed,

Tennessee has long had a student-data tracking system that allows it to trace student achievement to individual teachers, and in its proposal the state promised to adopt an advanced statewide teacher evaluation system by the 2011-12 school year. Currently, teacher evaluation systems there, as in most states, are designed by school districts

Delaware already has a statewide annual teacher evaluation system, and has recently adopted regulations requiring that those evaluations be based on growth in student achievement, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, which rated the finalists’ proposals.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted, “Perhaps most importantly, every one of the districts in Delaware and Tennessee is committed to implementing the reforms in Race to the Top, and they have the support of the state leaders as well as their unions.”

Secretary Duncan also explained that his Department will be releasing information that will illustrate the strengths and weaknesses of each state’s application.  He said, “We want to help states improve their proposals and share great ideas. On our Web site, we’re posting the scores for every application and all of the reviewers’ comments. By the end of next week, we’ll post the video of every finalist’s presentation to the peer reviewers.”

The information will be posted here.

New York has nine weeks to revise its application.

As its second round application takes shape, the State Education Department will again be asking superintendents, board presidents and local teacher union presidents sign memoranda of understanding indicating support for the reform initiatives in the revised plan.

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Today is the day: Round 1 Race to the Top winners to be announced — UPDATED

March 29th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

At 1 p.m. today the U.S. Education Department promises to post on its website a news release announcing first round winners in its $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.

March 29, 11:40 a.m. — Education Week is reporting that only two states — Delaware and Tennessee — will be named first round winners of race to the Top funds.  Confirmed by the New York Times and Washington Post.

On the bright side, the majority of funding will remain available for the round 2 competition, with applications currently planned to be due on June 1.

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Assembly budget would restore $600 million to School Aid

March 24th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The Assembly has printed bills to enact its version of a state budget.  Passage is expected today.  There are significant differences from the proposals advanced by Governor Paterson and the Senate.

The Assembly budget plan restores $600 million to school aid.  Most of this restoration would be delivered by reducing each district’s “net Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA)” by 41 percent.

The net GEA is the line on the standard School Aid run titled, “GAP ELIMIN ADJMT + FED RESTR.” This is the full GEA, partially offset by federal stimulus money (a $2.1 billion statewide reduction in state funds for School Aid offset by $725 million in stimulus funds).  To calculate a district’s restoration under the Assembly proposal, multiply the figure on this line by 0.41.

The Assembly plan rejects proposals to shift Summer and Preschool Special Education costs on to school districts.  It also rejects the Governor’s proposal to freeze the data used to calculate 2010-11 School Aid based on what was on file at the time the Executive Budget was submitted back in January.

The Assembly plan does not include legislation to use a five year average of change in the Consumer Price Index to set the contingency budget cap.

It also excludes almost all the mandate relief proposals offered by the Governor and Senate.

There is one notable exception — like the Senate, the Assembly would allow districts to use funds from Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Reserves (EBALR) to offset aid reductions.  The amount allowed to be used would be the lesser of the GEA (after the 41 percent reduction described above) or the amount beyond what would be needed to pay obligations for unused leave time, as certified by the fiscal or legal officer of the district.

Below is the Assembly’s summary of its actions on education issues.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Assembly budget to include lower School Aid cut? — UPDATED

March 23rd, 2010 by Robert Lowry

It’s expected that the Assembly majority will introduce its plan for a state budget late today or tomorrow.

Rumors have been circulating that the Assembly plan will restore about $600 million to School Aid.

A posting on the Albany Times Union Capitol Confidential blog supports the rumors.

The TU writes,

“This budget will have major cuts, but we were somewhat puzzled by the Senate’s willingness to accept all of the governor’s education cuts,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Westchester. The Assembly will cut closer to $800 million, members said.

The Governor’s proposal would reduce School Aid by $1.4 billion from what current formulas would provide.  A $600 million restoration would result in the $800 million cut cited by the Times Union.

UPDATE:  March 24, 1:20 pm:  The New York Daily News Daily Politics blog gives more details on the Assembly budget plan to be announced later today.  The blog reports,

The Assembly resolution will restore about $600 million of the $1.4 billion Paterson cut from education – $195 million of that will go to NYC schools.

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Senate votes to accept Governor’s School Aid cuts (Updated)

March 22nd, 2010 by Robert Lowry

Today, the State Senate’s Democratic Majority introduced a resolution outlining its plan for a 2010-11 state budget.  The plan accepts the Governor’s proposed cuts to School Aid.

UPDATE:  March 22, 5:22 pm — On a 32-29 vote (all Democrats in favor, all Republicans present opposed, one Republican excused) the Senate just passed the resolution outlining its state budget plan.  As a resolution, the action is a statement of intent, not an actual bill –if the Assembly passed an identical resolution it would not have legal effect.

Last week, half the Senators in the 32-vote Democratic Majority signed a letter to Governor Paterson saying, “We cannot, in good conscience, vote for a final budget that includes any cuts to education.”

Asked about the disparity between last week’s letter and this week’s resolution, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John Sampson said,

I think our colleagues understand the fiscal reality, and have been dealing with that, with this, in conference in going over this. This is a road map to basically, to get the discussions going and hopefully reaching a bipartisan agreement that all parties can live with, with respect to those cuts.

“We know that health care and education comprise around 53 percent of our budget.

The actual Senate budget resolution is available here.  Education provisions begin on p. 15.

No word yet on the details of an Assembly plan, or when one might be released.

Category: Finance, State Budget | 1 Comment »

President outlines plans for NCLB overhaul

March 14th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

In his weekly Saturday radio and Internet address, President Obama announced that his administration would send Congress its blueprint for reauthorizing the principle federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The ESEA was last reauthorized in 2001-02 through the No Child Left behind Act.

The Washington Post reported,

On Friday, Education Department officials briefed reporters, governors and interest groups. “From what they showed us, we like it,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “It looks like a significant departure from No Child Left Behind and the kind of thing we’d like to see done sooner rather than later.”

AASA is the Council’s national affiliate.

Meanwhile the teacher unions reacted skeptically.  The Post reported that American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said, “Obama’s plan ‘appears to place 100 percent of responsibility on educators and gives them zero percent authority.'”

The Post noted,

The president telegraphed his position on a stringent accountability policy March 1 when he expressed support for a decision to fire the staff of a struggling high school in Rhode Island, enraging teachers unions. However, Obama pledged in the Saturday address to treat teachers “like the professionals they are.”

The New York Times wrote that Mr.Obama’s plan “strikes a careful balance, retaining some key features of the Bush-era law, including its requirement for annual reading and math tests, while proposing far-reaching changes.”

The Times explains,

The administration would replace the law’s pass-fail school grading system with one that would measure individual students’ academic growth and judge schools based not on test scores alone but also on indicators like pupil attendance, graduation rates and learning climate. And while the proposal calls for more vigorous interventions in failing schools, it would also reward top performers and lessen federal interference in tens of thousands of reasonably well-run schools in the middle.

In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.

The proposal would also replace the current law’s emphasis on credentials as a measure of teacher quality to with requirements for states to develop process for evaluating teacher effectiveness in promoting student learning.

Another priority would be closing achievement gaps between poor and affluent students.  The plan has the potential of requiring state intervention in schools with seemingly high overall performance, if some groups of students are lagging.

The plan echoes themes of the Race to the Top initiative, for example requiring states to take aggressive action to turn-around their lowest-achieving 5 percent, by closing them, replacing at least half their staff, switching to independent management or take other action, including replacing the principal.

The proposal would authorize a $29 billion, 16 percent increase in federal aid, most of which would be distributed through competitive grants.  This emphasis had been rumored, leading to concerns that expanded competitive grant funding would be at the expense of traditional formula aid, which schools have come to depend upon.

The Obama Administration’s complete 45-page blue print is available here.

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Common Core Standards Up for Public Comment Now

March 10th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The National Governors’ Association and Council of Chief State School Officers have posted the latest drafts of “Common Core” standards —  quasi-national standards developed through collaboration among 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia.

There are two sets of standards — one for English language arts and literacy in history/social studies and science, the other for mathematics.

The drafts are available here.

The groups are seeking public comments through April 2nd.

The website includes an online survey.

The State Education Department is also conducting a survey — see here — and will provide the results to the NGA and CCSSO.

Read the rest of this entry »

Category: National Policy, Standards & Assessments | 1 Comment »

SED facing tough budget choices; exam reductions an option

March 9th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

The State Education Department is developing contingency plans to close a large projected deficit in its operating budget, resulting partly from the threat of a deep cut under Governor Paterson’s proposed state budget.

One option would be to reduce the number of standardized assessments it administers, including Regents Exams.  But no decisions have been made. Read the rest of this entry »

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State Budget News; Council analysis now out

March 8th, 2010 by Robert Lowry

Governor Paterson’s difficulties overshadowed the state budget process in Albany news last week.

But the Administration and Legislative Leaders did reach agreement on a revenue forecast.  A coalition of education groups sponsored news conferences around the state to draw attention to choices schools are facing as they assemble their budget plans.

The Council’s summary and analysis of the Governor’s budget proposals was mailed to superintendents and Legislators last week. Read the rest of this entry »

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