After eleven public meetings around the state and three hundred speakers the 25-member blue ribbon Task Force issued their interim report.
A little like kissing your sister on the cheek, pleasant and upsetting to no one.
I attended three of the public sessions. The Commission invited speakers representing state organizations and local leaders. School board members, superintendents and teachers all bemoaned the impact of the 2% property tax cap. Hundreds of school districts have been cutting programs, laying off staff and face insolvency. The impact of the fiscal meltdown in 2008 and the impact on the school district pension contributions are enormously burdensome in the short run.
Charter school providers lauded themselves, the importance of pre-school programs was emphasized, a New York City union speaker slammed the Department of Education and the Department in sweeping platitutdes congratulated themselves.
The recommendations of the interim report,
Recommendation 1: Increase access to early educational opportunities by providing high quality full-day pre-kindergarten for students in highest needs school districts.
The Regents are strongly supporting a fully funded pre-kindergarten program in “high needs districts,” the report does not address the issue of funding. The funding would have to be part of the April 1 State budget, and, requires support from legislators who are not in high needs districts.
Recommendation 2: Restructure schools by integrating social, health and other services through community schools to improve student performance.
Perhaps the most popular of the recommendations – from AFT president Weingarten to UFT president Mulgrew to the range of parent and community advocacy organizations “wraparound” services are the key to all else – again – funding – can the state devise a system that takes advantage of Medicaid funding and is self-sustaining?
Recommendation 3: Begin to restructure the school day and year by extending student learning time with academically enriched programming.
While not all teachers favor extending the school day/year in high needs districts it would be a positive step – and, yes, how will it be funded?
Recommendation 4: Improve the education pipeline through the smart and innovative use of technology.
A rather vague undefined recommendation – is the Commission talking about distance learning into schools and districts without the ability to offer elective courses, or, increased use of online courses?
Recommendation 5: Build better bridges from high school to college and careers.
The Commission is probably referring to more College Now classes, college courses offered at high school sites
Recommendation 6: Promote increased access to educational opportunities by encouraging school district restructuring through consolidation and regional high schools.
The Regents is asking for legislation to ease the creation of regional high schools. Consolidation has always been an option, districts have been reticent and whether consolidation saves dollars is an open question.
Recommendation 7: Create a school performance management system that will streamline district reporting and increase transparency and accountability.
The State Education Department is fully engaged in creating a performance management system using Race to the Top funding – who pays for it after the RttT dollars stop flowing?
After the initial recommendation the interim report sets out the next phase, again, broad topics that the wide ranging educational community can buy into.
* Attracting the best qualified, most highly motivated people into the education and providing them with appropriate training and preparation, as well as continued support once they are in schools;
* Examining the effectiveness of professional development, especially in preparing our teachers and leaders for the Common Core and Annual Professional Performance Reviews;
* Fairly and adequately distributing public education funding;
* Addressing the biggest cost drivers in education and areas where spending exceeds the rate of inflation, including special education, transportation, pension and benefits;
* Engaging parents and families meaningfully;
* Addressing the needs of school districts with high needs but low wealth; and
* Aligning the structure of New York’s education system to best meet the needs of our students and the concerns of our taxpayers.
Whether the report actually fully engages in debate on the funding formula will be fascinating, and unlikely. New York State is at the top of the nation in disparities in funding among districts. Will the Commission, which means the governor, actually propose driving additional dollars to low wealth districts, and, if so, would it direct dollars away from high wealth districts? The CFE lawsuit that took years to work through the courts eventually sustained the litigants and after difficult negotiations with the former governor and the legislature provided billions of additional dollars. The 2008 fiscal crisis ended the flow of dollars just as the dollars were beginning to flow.
The interim report calls for “addressing” the “biggest cost drivers,” namely special education, transportation, pension and benefits. The Governor’s Mandate Relief Task Force has made some minor changes in special education regulations, and, Commissioner King has been vigorously pushing other changes with rigorous pushback from Regents members.
Whether the Commission addresses the Early Childhood Special Education scandal is open to question. Over a billion annual dollars funds the program that is wholly run by non-public school providers – many of whom are for-profit providers. The State Department of Education does not audit the providers – in spite of a report of the State Comptroller finding widespread waste and possible fraud.
Surprisingly, the report makes no comments on the plight of English Language Learners. Achievement among immigrant children, with some notable exceptions (the NYC-based International High School Network) is abysmal. To make matters worse non-documented students are not eligible for state funds for college. The Regents endorsed, vigorously endorsed legislation, called the Dreamer Act, the report is totally silent, and, in the last session, the governor failed to support the bill.
We will undoubtedly hear more in the Governor’s State of the State message on January 9th.