Dear New Members of the Board of Regents …

Dear Mr. Reyes, Ms. Mead and 5th Judicial District Selectee,

Tuesday will be an exciting day, you will be gathered in the historic Assembly chamber, listening to speeches by your local electeds and get a little nervous as the roll call begins. The Republicans probably won’t show up, don’t take it personally, they usually boycott the vote. The Democratic leaders will be rounding up members to vote, which may take a while, eventually enough of the chamber will fill with members to vote (half of 150 Assembly + 63 Senate members) to elect you as members of the Board of Regents – an institution with origins in the late 18th century.

Regent Mead will join her first meeting on March 21st to vote for the new Chancellor and Vice Chancellor – quite a first meeting!

The Regents on one hand are the constitutional body vested with the authority to devise education policy for the state and on the other hand their powers are constrained by federal law and a powerful governor.

The meetings begin Monday mornings in the ornate Regents Room with a webcast presentation by the Commissioner and/or her staff.  At the February Meeting Deputy Ira Schwartz gave a detailed, very detailed explanation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (Watch Power Point here).  The US Department of Education is in the process of drafting regulations and a number of crucial questions are still up in the air. The law continues the annual testing of students in grades three to eight, the testing of English language learners after one year in the country and the testing of 99% of students with disabilities. No changes in the new law. In December a high ranking US Department of Education official authored a scathing letter warning states that high opt outs could/would/might result in the loss of federal dollars. The opt out schools in New York State are primarily high wealth districts with limited federal dollars.  If the feds “punish” New York State with a loss of federal dollars the low wealth, high poverty schools that did not opt out will receive fewer dollars (Read sections of the letter here ). A decision ultimately made the Commissioner/Regents.

Welcome to the Board of Regents.

After the full meeting the members move upstairs to the committee meeting. The Chancellor assigns both the committee chairs and members of each committee. I would suggest that new members attend all of the committee meetings, while only members can vote, votes rarely occur.

The P-12 Committee usually convenes first: a presentation by the Commissioner and/or staff members, occasionally presentations by a district specific to a particular program. At the February Meeting the Commissioner gave a detailed account of the beginning of the implementation of the Governor’s Task Force Report. Over the last two years the Governor, as part of the budget process, passed laws setting education policy. Yes, the constitution does task the Regents, and yes, the agenda has been set from the second floor of the Capital, the executive offices. In September the Governor appointed a Task Force that reported in December and the Regents adopted the Report, a Report with twenty highly specific recommendations.

I suggest you read the Report here.

The Commissioner has begun the process to implement the recommendations, see the Power Point accompanying the presentation, Revision and Implementation of the New ELA and Mathematics Standards  The Commissioner made it clear that the state has to fund the range of “recommendations.” Over the last ten years the state  budget process has been steadily reducing the budget of the State Department of Education, a not so subtle way of expressing dissatisfaction with the Department and Regents policies. For four years, ending in June, 2015 the state had $770 million from the Race to the Top grant – now SED must function with a curtailed budget and without the Race to the Top dollars. If the state budget, which will be decided by the end of March, does not provide additional dollars SED will have a difficult time implementing many of the proposed recommendations.

The feds will be inviting seven states to participate in pilot programs to explore alternatives to standardized tests – will New York State, the highest opt out state – be “invited” by the feds?

Welcome to the Board of Regents

As the day progresses one committee follows another: Higher Education, Cultural Education, State Aid, Adult Career and Continuing Education Services and Professional Practices. Did you know the State Education Department licenses and regulates over 600,000 “professionals” in New York State?

A few days before the Regents meeting a thick, very thick packet of materials will appear – you have now become the “expert” on scores of issues confronting the 700 school districts, 4400 schools, all the libraries and museums in the state as well as the hundreds of thousands of professionals across the state.

Welcome to the Board of Regents.

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