A Disappointing Court Ruling on School Finance

Friday, June 30th, 2017 at 7:32 am by

In 2014, the Council of School Superintendents joined New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights (NYSER), a coalition bringing a lawsuit alleging that then recent state actions in school finance violated the state constitution’s Education Article, as interpreted in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decisions issued by the state’s highest court in 1995, 2003, and 2006.

NYSER’s suit argued that, by failing to follow through on the implementation the Foundation Aid formula and other reforms enacted following the final ruling in the CFE case, the state has been denying schoolchildren the opportunity for a sound basic education as promised in its constitution.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, ruled the NYSER’s claims that students in New York City and Syracuse are being denied the opportunity for a sound basic education could go to trial and that NYSER could rely upon the CFE decision in its arguments.

But the decision is nonetheless disappointing.

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On Mayoral Control

Monday, June 26th, 2017 at 10:08 am by

The regular 2017 session of the New York State Legislature ended last week without action to extend mayoral control over the New York City public schools. It is now due to expire after June 30 — this Friday.

Our testimony on the subject at a May 2016 Senate Education Committee hearing began,

No one should desire a return to the school governance structure which preceded mayoral control in New York City.

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Testing. Now What?

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017 at 12:45 pm by

Reporters have asked me, “Do superintendents want students to take the state’s tests?” – specifically, the grades three through eight assessments in English language arts and mathematics.

My standard answer begins, “Superintendents want state tests that educators and families will see as having value for their students’ learning. If that happens, families will choose to have their children take the tests.”

Last week, the Board of Regents approved shortening the grades three through eight assessments from three days each to two. It’s a change the Council, individual superintendents, and many others in education have sought for years.

The Regents and State Education Department have now made a series of operational changes to the assessments which were widely requested:  shortening the time required for the tests, first the daily sessions and now the number of days; disclosing substantially more test questions; returning results to schools earlier.

All these actions are helpful in addressing concerns educators and parents have raised about the conduct of the tests.

Greater and more complicated questions of how to assure the tests have value mostly remain to be resolved. They begin with, what purposes do we aspire to have the tests serve, and can we construct tests that will soundly serve each of those purposes?

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Looking Ahead — Schools and State Budgets

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017 at 12:05 pm by

The Cuomo Administration’s financial plan released last week for the state budget enacted in April projects New York State will face a budget deficit of $4.02 billion and that School Aid will increase by $1.1 billion in 2018-19.

But behind these projection lies far greater uncertainty than usual.

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13 Reasons Why NOT

Monday, May 29th, 2017 at 5:52 pm by

Educators spontaneously share concerns about the effect on students of the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why.

In the series, a 17-year-old girl who has committed suicide arranged before her death to have audio tapes to 13 people explaining how their actions contributed to her tragic decision.

Students at Delaware Academy Central School District approached their superintendent, Jason Thomson, with a plan to share  “13 reasons why not” with fellow students.

Each day for the last 13 days of schools, a different student, teacher, or staff member shares a memory of a struggle they have overcome during the morning school announcements. Rather than casting blame, each speaker thanks someone for helping them through their tough time.

The post below was written and submitted by Delaware Academy Superintendent Jason Thomson. He is one of the 13 speakers.

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School vote turnout decline continues

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017 at 1:21 pm by

School budget votes a week ago produced a new record high approval rate – 99.3 percent, with only five school districts not gaining voter support for their proposed budgets.

New records were also set for yes vote percentage (74.5 percent) and for lowest turnout.

For the fifth year in a row, total turnout declined to a new low. Each of the last five years has also brought new record lows for both yes and no votes.

The tax cap appears to have contributed to the decline in turnout and increase in pass rates. Since the year before the tax cap took effect (i.e, since 2011), total turnout has declined by 37 percent, with yes votes down by 23 percent and no votes down by 57 percent.

The chart below the break provides year-by-year details. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Council’s Women’s Initiative

Monday, May 22nd, 2017 at 2:28 pm by

On Friday, the Council’s Executive Director, Charles Dedrick, and General Counsel, Jacinda (“Jazz”) Conboy appeared on cable television’s Capital Tonight program to discuss the Council’s Women’s Initiative, launched and led by Jazz.

You may watch the segment here.

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A summit on the mental health crisis among students

Monday, May 15th, 2017 at 10:14 am by

Next weekend, the New York State School Boards Association is hosting a summit — “Your Role in Addressing the Growing Mental Health Crisis Among Students.” Our organization is one of the co-sponsors.

As I shared in our last blog post, I’ve been struck by the stories superintendents tell of the pain they see in families and communities they serve. Often those stories cite concerns about mental health. That concern has come to stand out in one of our annual surveys as well.

For six years now, the Council has surveyed school district superintendents on financial concerns. Trying to end on an “up” note, each year we have concluded by asking,

“If your district were to receive an increase in funding beyond what would be needed to fund state mandates and your current level of services, what would be your top three priorities for the use of that funding?”

In each of the last three years, “Increase counseling, social work, mental health or similar services for students” has ranked as the second leading priority, behind only “Increase extra academic help for struggling students,” which has been the top ranked priority in all six years.

We did not add the option for mental health and similar services until our third annual survey:  in the aftermath of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut horror, it was striking how often superintendents professed concern about what had been happening to the availability of mental health services.

In fact, the vast majority of people suffering with mental illness are no more likely than the rest of the population to commit violent crime; they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

But the point stands:  superintendents were alarmed about diminishing access to mental health services for their students and families.

If anything, our survey findings suggest their alarm has grown:  the share of superintendents picking mental health, counseling and social work as one of three top funding priorities has also climbed each year, from 22 percent in 2013, to 35 percent for this school year.

Kudos to NYSSBA for arranging next weekend’s summit.

Below the break is a table summarizing the survey findings and giving some additional observations.

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Education, the economy and the election

Sunday, May 14th, 2017 at 1:11 pm by

We are reviving our blog after a hiatus of over a year. This post first appeared in the January 2017 edition of the Council’s monthly newsletter. We will be returning to themes that it covers in future posts.

In my travels around the state and other encounters last fall, I was impressed by stories of pain superintendents shared – not stories of pain within their schools, although there were those, but pain in the families and communities they serve.

At one regional stop, a superintendent told a state legislator, “Our kids’ teeth are worse than they used to be,” and, “Some of our kids come to kindergarten never having seen a dentist.”

Others told of grandparents raising children, because their actual parents were afflicted with substance abuse or working multiple jobs to make ends meet. When asked by a legislator how parent engagement might be encouraged, a few said of the parents in their communities, “They’re doing the best they can.”

Some explained how school buildings are the only sites for youth and adult communities services in their regions.

In December meetings of our State Legislative Committee, superintendents shared counts of opioid deaths in their communities with executive and legislative staff and explained their efforts to provide health and mental health services in their schools.

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Friday, May 12th, 2017 at 10:26 am by

Next week, voters outside the state’s “Big 5″ cities will go to the polls to pass judgment on school district budgets.

Here is an Excel spreadsheet which will produce a history of budget vote outcomes going back to 2003 for any district, including votes for and against the budgets.

Below is a chart showing statewide results over the same span (click the image to enlarge). Read the rest of this entry »

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