Cuomo Commission in Albany: Dissing the Property Tax Cap and a Flawed Funding Formula (updated)

The Governor had a great applause line in his January State of the State address. “I will be the lobbyist for the children of the State of New York.” Whether imposing a property tax cap which reduced services in hundreds of low wealth school districts is what he had in mind we’ll never know!

His proclamation took a slap at the education establishment,

New York State spends more money per student than any other state in the nation, but ranks 38th in high school graduation rates.* 73 percent of New York’s students graduate from high school and 37 percent are college ready. To address these major shortcomings in the state’s education system, Governor Cuomo called for the creation of the New NY Education Reform Commission in his 2012 State of the State address.

(* Education Week’s Quality Counts report rates New York State 3rd in the nation in six areas of performance  – the Governor chose a data point that is highly controversial – different states measure graduation rates differently)

Cuomo and Gates and others who pan American education offer “solutions” that are misguided and often wrong. David Drew in Slate,

One challenge to reforming our educational system is that politicians and voters think they know what’s wrong with American schools—after all, they went through the system themselves. But some of those common-sense opinions are simply wrong, and these false assumptions undermine much of the public debate about how to improve education.

Is Cuomo heading down the Duncan/Gates pathway?

On April 30th the Governor announced an educational reform commission with an extremely broad agenda, and on May 1 appointed members to the blue ribbon group . The commission is lead by Dick Parsons, former Citibank honcho and the three working groups are led by financier Sandy Weill, Elizabeth Dickey, the President of Bank Street College and Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Success Zone, the charter school provider.

The commission sets out tasks so broad  that at this point it is impossible to know where the commission is going.

The December Interim Report could simply be a list of vague platitudes.

Or, specific recommendations on revising the State funding formula which currently allows high wealth districts to spend three times as much as low wealth districts; a law suit is chugging through courts which could overturn the formula.

Or, some iteration of school district consolidation, would economies of scale reduce costs if school districts combined for some purposes?

Discouragingly large numbers of kids graduate high schools and enter city/state universities without college ready skills and require remediation. Colleges ask why are high schools graduating so many kids not ready for college? This is a nationwide phenomenon.

Does special education “mandate relief” mean cutting the costs and level of services to children with disabilities? Advocates fear the Commission will provide cover to lower the level of services.

How do you craft a more meaningful role for parents?

How do we improve results for English Language Learners?

The list of possible issues to tackle could go on for page after page.

The State Education Department already has an enormously detailed plan required by the Race to the Top and just amended in the successful ESEA Waiver. Could the commission make recommendations antithetical to the current goals the State Education Department?

Most recommendations would have to pass both houses of the legislature and face the scrutiny of the stakeholder electorate.

On Tuesday the first of ten regional public input meetings was held in Albany. A wide range of organizations were invited to provide testimony in writing and make brief comments, followed by a public section, first come, first spoken.

After a brief introduction Chair Parsons explained that the panels would address the general tasks laid out for the three working groups; the task of the commission to “create an action plan for the governor.”

The Superintendent Association rep bemoaned the lack of an equitable state funding formula, opposed district consolidation without local consent, supported regional high schools, with local approval, fears the property tax cap will exacerbate the inequity in school district funding and urged the commission to look toward the Vermont education funding system.

[This was Dr. Bruce Fraser, executive director of the New York State Rural Schools Association]

The School Board Association rep wanted regulations relaxed, seniority rules for teacher eased, opposed Triborough (contracts stay in effect after expiration until new contract is approved), especially that salary steps continue after a contract expires, asks for a clearer definition of a “sound basic education” and the cost.

The KIPP Albany rep argued that decisions should be in the best interests of children … and mused about accountability being too diffuse in schools.

Commissioner Rebell asked whether increases in State Aid this year resolved problems – the Superintendent rep replied that districts never have been worse off.

On the Principal and Teacher Quality panel the superintendent rep challenged the Cuomo negative data, deplored the inequity in funding, suggested incentives to hire and retain teachers, and favored eroding seniority rules, changes in Triborough, reducing Special Education mandate to federal level, and took a shot at a lack of professionalism of teachers meaning abiding by contract rules, in some instances. The State School Administrators Association explained that Race to the Top is an unfunded mandate, warned that teacher bashing will chase away recruits as well as in service teachers, and, asked for an independent review of APPR – the new Principal/Teacher evaluation plan. A teacher from a small school district explained that in the last three years the district staff had been reduced from 120 to 80 teachers with no end in sight, he listed a long list of cuts.

Commission member Druckenmiller pushed financial incentives, all three panel members opposed the idea, much to the disdain of the commissioner. [This was not Druckenmiller but Matt Goldstein from CUNY. He contrasted incentives in K-12 with higher ed, which is his area of expertise.]

The Student Achievement and Parent Engagement panel emphasized the importance of pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and early childhood education.

The open public comment section included a parent from Schenectady concerned with drastic cuts, a parent who is also an Assembly candidate who opposed bashing teachers, and Assemblyman from upstate, and the Superintendent from Cohoes, a district near Albany.

His testimony was the most effective!!

* 21% reductions in staff over the last three years.

* criticized State Ed will being overly rigid not allowing the district to make what seemed like perfectly reasonable funding decisions that would not impact students at all … just save money.

* suggested regional cooperatives to buy health coverage

* “smoothing” pension costs instead of the current wide year to year swings in contributions.

Commissioner Weingarten asked for further details.

All in all a rather quiet afternoon – most of the commissioners asked no questions.

What we can expect around the state is more of the same -panning the property tax cap and criticizing a flawed state funding formula.

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One response to “Cuomo Commission in Albany: Dissing the Property Tax Cap and a Flawed Funding Formula (updated)

  1. ‘NewYorkifornia’ here we come with the property tax cap. This Governor could be trying for President at the expense of ruining the Empire State. More pandering to a public whipped by an economy they didn’t create, and billionaires spending millions of dollars for political ads laying blame everywhere but where it belongs.

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