Governor to appoint education commission, teacher evaluation conflicts, and more

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 at 8:46 am by

In this post:

  1. Governor to appoint education commission
  2. Teacher evaluation conflicts
  3. School finance news

1.       Governor to appoint education commission

The 2012 session of the State Legislature begins on Wednesday when Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his second, “State of the State” address.

Monday’s New York Daily News reported that the Governor will announce a commission to recommend reforms to the state’s education system.

The Daily News explains,

 Cuomo’s announcement will come just days after he was critical of the city and other districts that failed to reach agreement with their unions on a new teacher evaluation system by an end-of-year deadline.

“The failure to pass the teacher evaluation system is an example that not only is the system broken, but the ability to monitor the system and come up with a method to ensure kids are educated properly is broken,” said a source close to Cuomo.

The education commission he will announce will be designed to look at education from a “student perspective,” the source said.

“What are the performance indicators? How do you judge performance in the education system? How are the services being provided?” the source said. “No one has really looked at it without a particular perspective on what’s going on in education.”

Last Friday, Newsday reported that Governor Andrew Cuomo “wants to take a hard look at school governance.”

Asked in a year-end interview, what surprises he encountered upon taking office, the paper reported,

Cuomo didn’t hesitate before saying, “The need for reform in education is much more striking to me,” adding that he’s troubled by “the lack of performance evaluation-management strategies on the school system.

“The greatest challenge is going to be reforming the education system in this state,” Cuomo said. “It’s probably the most complicated, intractable issue I’ve come across.”

The Governor did not disclose any specific proposals during the interview.


2.       Teacher evaluation conflicts

In the preceding item, the New York Daily News cited the failure of New York City, some other districts, and their teacher unions to reach agreement on new evaluation procedures as an instigation for the Governor’s decision to appoint a commission on education.

Here’s more on that aspect of the story…

At the beginning of last week, State Education Commissioner John King announced that he would suspend federal School Improvement Grants to New York City and nine other districts if they and their local unions were unable to come to agreement on procedures for evaluating teachers and principals consistent with new state requirements.

At that time, Commissioner King said that only Syracuse and Rochester had submitted materials for review of their evaluation procedures.

Subsequently, Buffalo, Albany, and Schenectady submitted materials, although a State Education Department spokesman cast doubt on Schenectady’s chances for approval.

New York State United Teachers issued a statement accusing the Commissioner of “an arbitrary exercise of brinksmanship.”  The union noted that 14 states had received waivers from the U.S. Education Department allowing more time to work out evaluation procedures.

Last Friday, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced he was breaking off negotiations on new evaluation procedures with the City’s teacher union, the United Federation of Teachers.

The Wall Street Journal reported,

The sticking point for a deal was whether teachers should be able to appeal a low rating to an outside arbitrator. Union officials said an appeal process would prevent principals from abusing their authority, but the city dismissed it as an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy.

Commissioner King issued a statement calling the breakdown in talks, “beyond disappointing,” adding

Sadly, the adults in charge of the City’s schools have let the students down.  SIG schools need to be fixed, and the best way to make that happen is to make sure there’s a quality teacher in front of every classroom and a quality principal at the head of every school.

On New Year’s Eve, Governor Cuomo issued this statement,

Teacher evaluations are critical to ensure our kids have high quality teachers in the classroom because performance counts.

I am disappointed that agreements could not be reached to impose teacher performance evaluations at some of our troubled school districts across the state.

Students lose twice because of this failure. First, the failure to reach agreements on teacher evaluations forces these schools to continue to operate without true accountability, which would ensure students receive a high quality education from high quality teachers. Second, these schools will also lose out on millions of dollars in much needed federal aid.

I urge all involved to get back to the table immediately, put their differences aside and put the kids first. They should agree on an evaluation system that improves performance and prevents the loss of more than one hundred million dollars this year for these schools across the state.

City Schools Chancellor Walcott elaborated his perspective in a Daily News columnon Monday, calling the UFT’s insistence on outside arbitrators to hear appeals “a radical departure” and a “a burdensome procedural layer designed to keep ineffective teachers in the classroom.”

UFT President Michael Mulgrew gave his side of the story on Time-Warner’s Capitol Night.


3.       School finance news

In blog posts last month I summed up the Regents State Aid proposal and offered reflections on the complexities of school district consolidation.

Here are some other items on school finance…

The attorney who led the Campaign for Fiscal Equity’s successful challenge to New York’s system of school finance is contemplating a new effort.

Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Michael Rebell said he isn’t necessarily headed back to court, but he is leading a research project which will evaluate whether a sample of schools in New York City and around the state are able to provide a sound basic education, as promised under the state constitution.

Mr. Rebell told the Journal, “I don’t rule out litigation.  I’ve been there. I’m prepared to do it if necessary. But we’re in this for the long run, and we’re not looking to just score some quick points and free up a few bucks if we can get it.”

Mr. Rebell also appeared on Capitol Tonight last evening.

On December 15, Governor Cuomo appeared on the Capitol Pressroom radio program to discuss the Regents state aid proposal.

The Gannet News Service Politics on the Hudson Blog observed,

Cuomo, asked several times about the Regents’ proposal by WCNY’s Susan Arbetter, didn’t commit to a specific formula for distributing school aid—always one of Albany’s most scrutinized decisions during the budget process—but said he wants to make sure school performance is part of the conversation.

As the blog reported, the Governor added,

“We want to incentivize performance by the school districts. This system, in my opinion, is sorely lacking in terms of performance,” Cuomo said. “We just fund process. We give school districts a block grant … where they get the same amount whether they are doing great or doing poorly.”

…But Cuomo repeatedly said he wants to focus on performance, without committing to any specific aid-distribution system. Cuomo’s budget proposal will be revealed in January.

“I want to add another component to the conversation, which is let’s talk about the students and whether or not you are educating students,” Cuomo said. “This whole conversation has become about the school district and the teacher and the superintendent, and I want to talk about the student.”

Also in the middle of last month, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle contrasted the learning opportunities available in poor rural districts and elsewhere.  Phelps-Clifton Springs superintendent Mike Ford warned that his district faces the prospect of eliminating kindergarten and all high school electives next year.

Another potential source of tension in school finance is the disparity between where state revenues come from versus where they go.

The State University’s Rockefeller Institute of Government reported that New York City residents and businesses paid about $4.1 billion more in taxes and fees than the City received in state funding and services in 2009-10.

The suburban counties (Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland) paid $7.9 billion more into the state treasury than they received in state aid.

In contrast, upstate regions contributed 28 percent of the state’s revenues and received 42 percent of state outlays.

Writing in the New York Post, the Institute’s Deputy Director, Robert Ward, notes

Regional disputes, often bitter, have haunted New York since colonial days. City and suburban taxpayers might take some comfort simply in knowing that their basic sense of the state’s budgetary balance — we’re paying more than our share! — is, by the numbers, absolutely correct.

Upstaters also have a point when they say that Downstate political sensibilities drive up local taxpayer costs everywhere in New York. Thus, the state sets the rules for programs such as Medicaid and special education — helping to make them far more costly here than in most states — but requires localities to pick up much of the cost, which helps explain the Empire State’s extraordinarily high property taxes.

Nor does the apparent imbalance among regions necessarily mean the current division of dollars is unfair.

For a century or more — certainly since the days of Franklin Delano Roosevelt — Americans, and especially New Yorkers, have believed that redistribution of wealth is a central purpose of government. FDR defined the measure of progress itself as “whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Thus, Albany will distribute some $20 billion in education aid this year based partly on how many children in each school are poor enough to qualify for free lunch. Individuals’ age and need will help drive more than $50 billion in Medicaid and welfare spending.

On the other side of the ledger, the state’s major source of revenue, the personal-income tax, is designed to take more from individuals who have more….

Finally, in the past I have noted the powerful impact of two costs — pensions and health insurance — on school spending and taxes.

For four successive years in the last decade, increased costs for those two items roughly matched or exceeded increases in state funding, contributing to a run of higher than historically typical local tax increases.  More recently, districts have cut other spending on balance to absorb pension and health costs while holding down overall spending and taxes.

Monday’s New York Daily News carried a column by the Speaker of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives on that state’s successes in managing pension and health care costs of its workforce.

Here is a piece from the Boston Globe providing more details on the health insurance initiative.



This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 at 8:46 am and is filed under Finance, Legislation, State Budget, Teachers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.