Tag Archives: Kirwan Commission

Governor Cuomo versus the Children, Parents and Teachers of the State of New York: Will the Funding Formula Inequities Be Addressed?

A couple of months ago I signed up to testify before the hearings on Foundation Aid, the New York State share of education funding; on Tuesday I trekked to 250 Broadway to listen and testify before the committee.

My testimony: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YUHhryzXza8-utRP8_FdeEuPK0Yne_u9Ovica3S1C6I/edit

The Senate Education Committee, under the leadership of Shelly Mayer, has held roundtables and hearings around the state; Tuesday’s hearing was the last of the series.

The legislature convenes in January and the governor gives his State of the State speech on January 8th and will probably lay out his budget priorities.

The state is facing a 5 billion dollar budget gap, the largest in a decade,  due to sharply increasing Medicaid costs, only California spends more on Medicaid.

Now we get into the weeds; the governor has wide discretion in setting the budget; if you’re interested, and I hope you, are check out Silver v Pataki, a NYS Court of Appeals decision that sustained the governor’s right to set state budgets. Over the last few years the governor has set a 2% limit on increases in the state budget in addition to capping local school district budgets to 2% increases; school budgets are set by elected school boards and voted on in May (except in the Big Five – NYC, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers).

If the governor has the final word on the total amount of the state budget why is the State Senate holding hearings?

There are three sources of state education funding: property taxes, federal Title 1 and Foundation Aid; the range in property taxes varies widely, extremely widely. New York State leads the nation in disparity of funding. Foundation Aid, the state share, is supposed to equalize the disparity in property taxes. It fails to do so, not even close, the disparity in funding is disgraceful.

In the 90’s, the Campaign for Fiscal (CFE) sued the state over the Foundation Aid formula, after years of litigation the Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state sustained the decision of the lower court, the funding formula was inequitable.

The funding formula, Foundation Aid, was to be amended to meet the educational needs of children in the appellant’s districts.

Then came the Great Recession ….

The state struggled to meet expenditures as the nation struggled, slowly, the nation and the state recovered.  As advocates argued that the state “owed” the litigants dollars under the CFE court decision the “governor called a years-old lawsuit and the state’s school funding formula ‘ghosts of the past and distractions from the present’”

Michael Rubell, the lead attorney in the original CFE lawsuit has filed another challenge to the state, the case will be heard before the trial court during the upcoming sessions (Read a summary of the arguments here).

Something has changed!

The 2018 election resulted Democrats seizing the Senate, not by a few votes, they now control almost 2/3 of the Senate. The new members won in Democrat primaries as well as defeating Republicans in the November elections. A combination of outspoken “old-timers,” (John Liu, Robert Jackson), young dynamic leaders (Alesandra Biaggi, Julia Salazar Brian Benjamin, Zellnor Myrie) as well as a committee chair who understands the “politics” of the legislature: a new coaliton.

I suspect the newer members will be aggressive within their caucus and aggressive in their dealings with the governor; a governor who at times sounds like the president.

The governor can simply ignore the pleas to reform education funding across the state, continue to claim the CFE decision is a dead issue, is a “ghost of the past.”

Or, he can accept the detailed plan submitted to the Education Committee by Michael Rubell to establish a process to revise school funding, or, follow the path of Maryland, called the Kirwan Commission which created an entirely new method of funding Maryland schools, or, follow the Indiana pathway; a new path to fund states that required a constitutional amendment.

I suspect there will be many new candidates running in June primaries against incumbent senior Democrats as well as in November running against established Republican candidates.

This will be an interesting legislative session.

Who will become the next NYS Education Commissioner?

The July Board of Regents (BOR) meeting traditionally is a retreat, in the past held at the New York State Museum and other sites. The Board discusses a major topic for the upcoming school year. This year the topic was high school graduation requirements including the required exit exams, the five required Regents Examinations.  The Commissioner gives an update during the meeting. Commissioner Elia shocked the BOR members and the audience announcing she would be resigning effective August 31 to pursue other opportunities.

Elia was an activist commissioner who successfully grappled with creating a New York State Every School Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, a plan that moved from assessing schools solely on proficiency to a mixture of proficiency and growth, in other words, crediting schools with improving student outcomes regardless of their base scores on state tests. Additionally skillfully guided the BOR through the rocky movement from rating teachers on student test scores to removing test scores from principal/teacher evaluations. Other issues were more contentious, increasing student teaching hours, moving away from the four required tests for prospective teachers, and moving from the 180 school day year to the 990 hour school year requirement.

The BOR members, former school superintendents and a number of former teachers are an activist board. Prior boards, non-educators, businessman, etc., acquiesced to the chancellor and the commissioner with only a few members questioning decisions.

Chancellor Rosa, a former New York City superintendent welcomed BOR members to participate in the debate, and the members responded. Debate is vigorous, stakeholders across the state included in work groups and blue ribbon commissions, thousands submitted comments on proposed regulations.

Contentious might be too mild a term, Op Out parents viewed Elia as unsympathetic and urged her to oppose testing more actively.

A major achievement is the New York State commitment to My Brothers’ Keeper, a core piece of the Obama education program.

 With the adoption of the 2016–2017 New York State Budget, New York became the first state to accept the President’s challenge and enacted the My Brother’s Keeper initiative into law. The budget included a $20 million investment in support of the initiative to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.

 New York State has a unique governance structure, a board elected by a combined meeting of both houses of the state legislature – effectively appointed by the speaker of the Assembly. Anyone can apply, open interviews are held and the local Senate/Assembly members make a recommendation to Speaker Heastie who has put forward the name suggested by the local electeds. Under the prior speaker the selection of BOR members was solely the prerogative of the speaker.

The governor plays no role and the education budget is set by the legislature and the governor.

In virtually all other states boards of education are appointed by the governor with consent of the state legislative body and the board selects the commissioner.

Under Chancellor Rosa BOR members have been “partners” with commissioner, partners that vigorously agrees/challenges/debates issues. The SUNY Board of Trustees, approves items with minimal debate. The BOR debate frequently moves from meeting to meeting, posted for public comment, amended, re-posted, the process can be laborious, consensus-building can be an arduous process.

The sudden resignation of the commissioner and the selection of a successor is challenging.

The Boston Globe reported that former deputy commissioner Infante-Green, who became the Rhode Island commissioner in the spring was offered the position, and demurred.

Beth Berlin, not an educator, was the deputy who actually ran the day-to-day operation of the State Education Department, was appointed as acting commissioner, and, some mused that Beth should actually succeed Elia with Rosa and deputy chancellor Brown playing a more activist role.

Berlin also demurred; announcing she would be resigning effective November 15th and moving on to another position.

Long Island superintendents are concerned, very concerned about the exodus of leaders at the State Education Department.

Three months have passed and the commissioner position has yet to be posted. It did take five months to search and hire Elia.

Should the BOR seek a national figure as commissioner to lead New York State? Or, would a national figure clash with an activist board?

Should the BOR select a current or recent senior New York State Superintendent with deep knowledge of the state, without any national credentials?

Does the ethnicity of the commissioner matter? Is it time for a Latinx commissioner?

Should the next commissioner be anti-testing?  Willing to seek alternatives to required grades 3-8 state tests and alternatives to the Regents Exams? Or, will challenging testing also be viewed as challenging federal laws and endanger federal funding?

Should the next commissioner seek more aggressively the transparency of charter schools?

Should the next commissioner lead a Maryland-like Kirwan Commission?

As states around the U.S. grapple with how to improve their educational systems, Maryland is taking an approach that some experts call a blueprint for the whole country.

The state is on the brink of becoming the first in the country to prioritize equitable distribution of funds among school systems — if state leaders can overcome the hurdles of legislative bureaucracy and stay the course.

The state’s so-called Kirwan Commission has put forward a $4 billion education funding proposal that would increase teacher salaries, bring in more counselors, improve career preparation programs, give extra support to schools serving children who live in poverty and expand free, full-day prekindergarten.

And, would Governor Cuomo want a governance structure that mirrors other states and includes gubernatorial appointees?

A challenging role for the BOR members.

Sadly, Regent Judith Johnson has passed away – Judith dedicated her life to fighting for the underserved; at meeting after meeting she reminded her colleagues and the state that New York State was failing the most vulnerable children. The New York State funding formula drives the most dollars to the wealthiest school districts. She was the conscience of the Board.

The (Maryland) Kirwan Commission: Is It Time for New York State to Investigate Changing School Funding Formulas As Well As Educational Governance and Priorities?

A month to go until the New York State budget will be approved and a core part of the budget is school aid.

New York State leads the nation, by far, in per capita funding, is at the top of the list for most disparate funding within the state, and NAEP scores  are flat and “perform significantly lower than national scores.”

The governor has noted the disparities time and time again; however, the school funding system in New York State remains unchanged. About 2/3 of funding comes from local property taxes and 1/3 from state funding, primarily through the Foundation Aid Formula.  The Foundation Aid Formula dispenses state budget dollars in order to ease the disparity between high wealth/high tax and low wealth/low tax districts.

Over the last month the legislature has held hearing on the state budget, the state commissioner, the unions, school districts, schools boards and advocates all advocating for more dollars. The Board of Regents and the legislature budget priorities and the governor’s proposals are far apart.

The former leader of the Citizen’s Budget Commission is sharply critical of the school aid funding process,

 Every district and its legislators will fervently argue that more school aid is needed, that its schools are underfunded, and that its students will suffer serious harm if more money isn’t devoted to them as soon as possible. But in fact, the vast majority of New York’s schools are generously funded, while our results in terms of achievement are only mediocre. Instead of targeting additional aid to the few truly needy districts, all are given more.

 Aside from the funding formula another question is how school districts distribute the funds to schools within the districts,

… the Rockefeller Institute of Government found that the poorest schools in New York City get 12 percent less per student than the wealthiest schools. In Buffalo, the poorest schools received 26 percent less per student than the richest schools. Cuomo called the current school funding formula a “scam”…  “You gave money to the poorer district, but they didn’t give it to the poorer schools,” he sai

Additionaaly, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court decsion has not been fully implemented and the governor casts aside the billions “owed” to state schools.

In spite of the threats and chest pounding in both houses of the legislature sometime late on March 31st and into the early morning of April 1st the legislature will pass a budget.

Does the New York State need a major reform of the education funding process along with the management structure and educational priorities?

The Kirwan Commission has spent the last two years crafting a proposal to restructure the education system in the state of Maryland.

The 243-page interim report of the Commission calls for,

INCREASED BASE AND WEIGHTS The Commission must increase its base amount of funding per pupil and the weights for special populations must remain high enough to address the additional resources and services needed to educate students in Maryland schools.

 UNIVERSAL PRE-K There must be funding to provide access to high quality, childhood programing/prekindergarten for 4 year olds and (low income) 3 year olds.

 POVERTY PROXY The Commission must adopt an efficient and effective way to count low-income students, such as direct certification with a multiplier, in order to properly direct funding and resources to the schools with greater need. Any additional form is burdensome and counter-productive.

 MULTIPLICATIVE WEALTH CALCULATION The multiplicative wealth measure will provide a more accurate reflection of a jurisdictions ability to pay, it results in state and local contribution targets that ensure all students receive the same funding across the state.

 ADDRESS CONCENTRATED POVERTY The Commission recommendations must include resources to combat the negative impacts of poverty on school communities, which could be in the form of an additional weight or an escalator that provides additional funding for schools at a certain threshold of poverty

 There are many other recommendations, and, the full implementation would greatly increase the cost of education in Maryland, the report does not address how the state would raise the needed dollars. Additionally a third of the commission members appended “individual statements,” sometimes called, “Yes, But …” or “reservations.

The members of the commission include many of the power brokers in the state from across the political spectrum.

I have no idea whether the Maryland governor and legislature will implement the recommendations.

In New York State, in spite of the “strurm und drang” the education budget passes each year without significant changes – the “rich get richer” and the “poor get poorer.” To maintain their new majority in the Senate the newly elected Democrats are likely to advocate just as hard as their Republican predecessors to maintain the current inequitable funding formula.

In addition, are the 700 school districts with elected school boards and 700 collective bargaining agreements the most efficient and effective way to manage the 4400 schools in the state?  Very few school districts have ever merged. Maybe the very local decision-making process best serves the needs of schools; on the other hand, perhaps, the system is an ineffective anachronism.

Is the current Board of Regents, selected by joint meeting of the legislature the most effective governance structure? Or, should education policy makers be apart from governatorial politics?

I don’t know any of the answers: is it time for a commission, selected by the governor and the legislature, with a staff, with totally transparent meetings and full public input?

The Kirwan Commission conducted fifteen full day meetings over two years, and, the interim report is far from implementation.

New York State will continue to spend significant dollars, and spend the dollars inequitably, and, there are no guarantees that the dollars are well-spent.

Perhaps its time to find a path to a better education system.