Citing record number of districts with negative tax caps, Educational Conference Board renews call for $2.2 billion state aid increase

ECB

 

State funding is the only way many districts will be able to continue current services

Citing the record high number of 82 districts that are facing negative tax caps this year, the state’s leading education groups (including SAANYS) sent a letter to state legislators urging them to provide the $2.2 billion school funding increase that is needed in a final state budget agreement.

The districts facing negative tax caps are located in all areas of the state, and the letter from the Educational Conference Board (ECB) identifies them by region. The full letter and the list of districts are available here..

The tax cap data is based on information districts recently filed with the Office of the State Comptroller. Some have not yet reported, which means the number of districts that face the untenable situation of a negative tax cap may ultimately be higher.

In addition to the $2.2 billion aid increase, the letter calls on the state to adjust the tax cap law to address instances of negative caps by setting a floor of zero and to finally implement two tax cap modifications that were signed into law last year but have not yet been put in place.

SAANYS Delivers Legislative Testimony on Executive Budget – 2/3/15

Jim2SAANYS presented verbal testimony before a joint meeting of the state legislature on 2/3/15. The verbal testimony was limited to 10 minutes, but SAANYS also presented more detailed written testimony. Click here to download the testimony document.

You will find the testimony to be comprehensive in addressing the governor’s Executive Budget proposal. In addition to budgetary issues, some of the programmatic issues addressed include:

·         Annual Professional Performance Reviews (See Testimony Page 8)

·         Probation / Tenure (See Testimony Page 10)

·         Failing Schools and Districts (See Testimony Page 12)

·         Prekindergarten (See Testimony Page13)

2014-15 New York State Budge Summary

Provided below is a bullet point summary of selected state budget provisions related to K-12 education.

Utilization of Test Data
Individual student scores on the state 3-8 ELA and math assessments may not be placed on a students’ official transcript or maintained in a students’ permanent record, but may be used in required state and federal reporting.

Notice must be provided to parents that the 3-8 ELA and math results will not be included on official transcripts or maintained in the students’ permanent record. The above provisions expire on December 31, 2018.

Promotion/Placement
Student promotion and placement decisions may not be based upon results of the state 3-8 ELA and math assessments. Such results may be a factor in such decisions, along with other measures. The promotion and placement policy shall be provided to parents annually.

Pre-K – 2 Test Ban
The commissioner is to promulgate regulations prohibiting standardized tests, but not those required by federal law or those designed to demonstrate application of knowledge and skills.

Test Time

The commissioner is to promulgate regulations creating the following testing restrictions:

–  State assessments may not exceed one percent of the minimum required annual instructional hours for each grade. Assessments not required by state or federal law also may not exceed one percent of the minimum required annual instructional hours for each grade.

–  Test preparation for standardized tests may not exceed two percent of the minimum required annual instructional hours per grade. Teacher administered quizzes and exams are exempted from these limitations. We expect the creation of regulations that provide clarity to these provisions to be challenging.

SED is also to issue guidance on the reduction and elimination of standardized tests not required by law, and report all standardized tests that are administered, by district. Each district shall be required to post this report on its website.

Students With Disabilities/ELL

The commissioner is to issue regulations to allow students with disabilities who are not eligible for the alternate assessment to be assessed on instructional level rather than chronological age.  ELL may be assessed with a state exam that measures English language development rather than the ELA exam for their first two years of enrollment.

Test Administration

The commissioner is required to reduce field tests, make more test questions from the 3-8 ELA and math exams available for review and to expedite review of proposed changes to APPR plans designed to reduce testing.

Universal Pre-K

$340 million to fund Pre-K, $300 million of which is dedicated to New York City.  Pre-K will be funded by grants awarded by SED pursuant to an application scoring system that SED is to develop.  Pre-K programs must provide at least five hours of instruction per school day by certifed teachers and the programs are subject to annual inspections. Grant awards may only be used to supplement and not supplant current expenditures on Pre-K programs.

Teacher Excellence Fund
A teacher excellence fund was funded with $10 million. Districts must submit their locally negotiated plan on supplementing “highly effective” teachers with up to $20,000 to SED and DOB for approval.

The state budget contains many more educationally related items. This summary is designed to provide a quick overview of some of the more high profile items. Any questions or comments should be directed to Jim Viola, director of government relations at jviola@saanys.org.

Education cuts loom, speak up now!

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Whether you know it as sequestration or as the fiscal cliff, the amount of fiscal support for educational programs will be substantially decreased, by approximately eight percent, if a long-term federal budget plan is not in place by January 2, 2013.

If sequestration is implemented, cuts will take effect for the 2013-14 school year for Title 1 grants to schools (currently $14.5 billion, possible cut of $1.2 billion) and special education grants (currently $11.6 billion, possible cut of $973 million). According to a report by the New York State School Boards Association, the average New York State school district will lose $243,000, and the largest cuts will be incurred by the state’s largest school districts: New York City, $95.1 million; Buffalo, $4.1 million; Rochester, $3.4 million; and Syracuse and Yonkers ($1.6 million each).

Use the NASSP Action Center now to easily contact your senate and congressional representatives!

Tell them:

  • A budget plan is needed now – one that is balanced in a manner that safeguards support to schools and students.
  • Many New York State school districts are already straining to implement required services and educational reforms – many of which emanate from the federal level. More funding is needed – not a reduction.
  • More than 30,000 teachers and 7.5 percent of positions for school administrators have been eliminated. Many school services and programs have been discontinued. The full effects of the funding cliff may be expected to adversely impact not only students’ education, but their life opportunities.

SAANYS Delivers Testimony to Gov’s Ed Reform Commission 7/10/12

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Local Control – New York State has a long history of “local control.” This educational cornerstone means that each school district, through its administrative team and board of education, should have primary control in setting academic priorities, determining services and programs, and ensuring the quality of its educational services and personnel. Over recent years, important federal and state initiatives have been implemented, or attempted, to significantly diminish local control. In drafting our state’s educational blueprint for the future, the Commission must address the foundational consideration of the extent to which educational services and programs, and their attendant costs, should be prescribed by the State.  It is our recommendation that local control should be continued and reinforced. The state and federal roles should be focused on setting academic standards and targets, not determining local procedures and services.

 

Recruitment – An important step toward ensuring that the “best and the brightest” enter the field of public education and ascend to administrative ranks is to enhance the public perception of education.  Nobody wants to enter a career of which they cannot be proud. But sadly, we are at a time when publicly “bashing” teachers and school administrators is accepted and even modeled by state leaders. This perception, coupled with reduced pension benefits and ever increasing job demands, has a chilling effect on individuals’ desiring to make the very substantial financial and personal investments that are required to be a public school administrator. For example, despite escalating academic requirements year-to-year, high school graduation rates have improved every year for the past five years, but rather than extending congratulations, the emphasis tends to be more placed on the limited numbers of students meeting aspirational performance goals. We recommend a “balanced” depiction of our educational system that is as attuned to recognizing achievements as it is areas needing improvement.

School District Budgets – Priority Setting and Professional Discretion – SAANYS is grateful for the opportunity to have worked with Mr. Schwartz and others in the Governor’s office over the past two years to identify state planning and reporting requirements that may be reduced or eliminated. Sadly, in the work lives of school administrators over the past two years, there has been a net increase of such requirements with little or no additional aid to support their implementation. For example, the allocations received by most school districts under Race to the Top (RTTT) fall far short of the actual funding needed to implement its requirements. (Forty percent of school districts receive less than $10,000 per year.) Rather than provide local tax burden relief, it has exacerbated the burden.  In that the RTTT reforms have been incorporated in state law or regulation, they dictate where the “first dollars” are spent. School funds must be directed to implement common core curriculum, to implement Annual Professional Performance Review procedures, and computer-based assessment before they are used for advanced placement programs, arts programs, or kindergarten.  School administrators are restricted from implementing the programs, services and interventions they feel are most strategic because they must implement the state reforms that are mandated. The state agenda is the priority; local priority setting and local control are more and more becoming second tier considerations.  Any action by the Commission to meaningfully reduce unnecessary and unfunded mandates for schools will be helpful. At the very least, action should be taken to prevent the establishment of additional mandates in the future.

Personnel Resources – Priority Setting and Professional Discretion – Personnel resources are finite and shrinking. Over the past three years, administrative positions have been cut 7.5 percent and teacher positions have been cut 4.3 percent (Source: The Council of School Superintendents, October 2011), and it is expected that further reductions will be implemented for the 2012-13 school year. In that the education reforms established under Race to the Top have been incorporated in law and regulation, there is correspondingly increased administrative responsibility, much of which is related to record keeping and reporting. School administrators are not able to direct their time and staff time in the manner they feel most strategic to improve educational performance, but in a manner that will ensure completion of state determined priorities.

Targeted Support for School Administrators  — The volume and complexity of work for school leaders  continues to grow. More than ever before, it is essential to capitalize upon the deep experience of veteran, successful school administrators in mentoring or coaching new administrators and administrators wishing to improve. Support and incentives should be made available for this process and relationship of ongoing support.  It has been demonstrated to be effective in building individual and team capacity, and in developing competency and self-awareness. Such a system, grounded in research and experience, is strongly recommended as a means to enhance the quality of school administrators. Little of the RTTT funds have been devoted to school leadership across the state in all districts.

 

Defining and Measuring Quality – Part and parcel of New York State’s obligations under the Race to the Top program is the establishment of a statewide Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system. Though the APPR system was established in Education Law in May 2010, due to court challenge, subsequent changes in law and regulation, and the sporadic release of information by the State Education Department, school districts did not know the full and final requirements that needed to be collectively bargained and built into their APPR Plans until March 2012.  The system includes four quality ratings (highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective) for teachers and principals, along with voluminous and complex procedural requirements to be completed for each educator. The APPR system is unpiloted and untried in New York State and therefore, questions remain: Are these the right ratings and definitions of quality? Will the system yield evaluation scores and ratings that are valid and reliable? To what extent should the evaluations be released?  It is therefore recommended that an objective evaluation of New York State’s APPR system be completed. In addition to quality rating considerations, the study should address the extent to which the system is cohesive, results in targeted professional development, supports improved student performance, and impacts upon school district and BOCES budgets.

The Value of Flexibility

After consistently opposing a millionaires’ tax, and insisting there would be no tax increases, Governor Cuomo turned on a dime and passed a mid-year budget package that essentially did both.  By “restructuring” the tax code, tax rates were slightly reduced for most, but increased for those earning more than $2 million per year. The net result is an estimated $1.9 billion in new revenues. Not tax increases, but new revenues.

This fiscal gyration wipes out the current year shortfall and should make the promised increase in education spending more likely, so the result is an agreeable one. It makes me wonder if the governor’s flexibility might be adopted by others.
In October, SAANYS wrote to Commissioner King and the members of the Board of Regents asking that the State Education Department apply to the U.S. Department of Education for a one-year extension of the RTTT requirement for the implementation of the APPR law. The State of Delaware did so and had its application granted. Regardless, there seems to be little interest at SED in pursuing this course of action.

It seems to me to be increasingly difficult to engage in thoughtful discussion around the practical impact and the validity of our new APPR system. It is my observation that too many people are too quick to place an individual in one philosophical corner (“education reformer”) or another (“defender of the status quo”). Each label is frequently tagged with allegedly having unflattering characteristics (blindly attacking public education despite limited public education experience versus defending the lazy and inept despite the adverse effect on children), which may or may not be true, and most often are not.

Reasonable people may, and do, debate whether student growth scores are a valid means of measuring teacher or principal effectiveness, but being on one side or another does not equate to some kind of moral failure. One may argue that having 20 percent of an evaluation based on student growth scores is insufficient, or to the contrary, that 20 percent is far too high. In either case, the position adopted does not reveal an improper motive. A concern over the method of being held accountable does not equate to opposition to accountability. The state assessment system has an unstable past, and it is not unreasonable to want an accountability system that is built on a firm foundation, and not on 80 percent of one.

It is my hope that we can have informed discussions about the costs and practical front-line implementation issues without being labeled as obstructionists. I hope that those who create a system that they believe will help children will remain humble enough to accept that they too can learn from those who face life’s often unpleasant realities in our schools on a daily basis. I hope that there will be evaluations of the evaluation system as it is implemented, and that proponents of the system will have the courage to make changes should they be warranted. Let our governor serve as our guide; if circumstances call for a modification of earlier positions, let us not be afraid to ‘restructure’ ourselves to the right result.

Fall Vanguard: Rowing the Boat Together

Excerpts from feature interview: “Listening Within and To Those Around Us” – An Interview with Michael Fullan.

“Change is only a mirage unless people actually experience the reality of improvement” (Fullan, p. 57).

Change is something we have become quite accustomed to over the past few years, but we are unsure whether those changes will lead to improvement in our school systems. Dr. Michael Fullan, internationally known for his work in educational leadership, knows how to move forward during the toughest of times. In his new book, Change Leader (2011, Jossey-Bass), Fullan offers educators ideas on how they can move forward during one of the most difficult financial times we have seen in our educational history. The keys? Reflection and Collaboration.

Fullan suggests that educators look within their own practice first before they read books and articles. That reflective practice has to be honest. They need to look at their practice through a critical lens that focuses on both the positive and the negative attributes of their practice. Lastly, those educators who are focused enough to move forward cannot do it alone. They must work collaboratively, across buildings and job responsibilities. That said, Fullan believes that school leaders have been forced to lead with the wrong drivers. The four wrong drivers are external accountability, focus on individuals, technology, and piecemeal reform efforts. He believes we should be focusing on: capacity building, teamwork, and other forms of collaboration, pedagogy, and systemic strategies. Basically, we should not be moving forward alone. We need our collective wisdom to get us through these difficult times.

Full story in the Fall issue of SAANYS Vanguard Magazine.

For Sale

We have entered a time in education when the line between public and private education is blurring, and the influence of moneyed interests is increasing. The primary drivers of this melding of public and private education are economic and philosophical. On the economic side, state aid to education has been reduced, a tax cap has been imposed, health insurance and pension obligations continue to rise, and in its haste to obtain highly conditioned federal RTTT dollars, the state legislature hurriedly passed an evaluation law so full of mandates that it costs most RTTT participating districts far more than what they will receive. For districts not participating in the RTTT, it is just all cost.
Fiscal uncertainty also emanates from Washington, D.C. The nature and extent of the federal spending cuts agreed to as part of the recent debt ceiling deal are unknown, but won’t be good. It is estimated that the automatic cuts that will go into effect if further cuts are not agreed upon will reduce federal funding to the U.S. Department of Education by $3 billion a year above and beyond the initial cuts.

The philosophical drivers are from many sources, but are commonly grouped together under the umbrella banner of the “education reform movement.” This movement includes any number of well-financed foundations (Gates, Walton, Broad, Wallace…), businesses, politicians, charter school advocates, individual philanthropists, as well as those such as New York City Mayor Bloomberg, who may fall into multiple categories.

The motives of those philosophically opposed to the status quo presumably are diverse, ranging from a heartfelt desire to do good to a pure profit motive, but there is no reasonable denial of their impact. They manifest themselves in many ways, some of which seem a little too cozy. Consider the
following:

1) Wireless Generation, a company that has worked with the New York City school system in the past, has a current $1.5 million no-bid contract with the New York City schools. Just this past June, Wireless Generation was set to receive a $27 million no-bid contract from the State Education Department to be funded from RTTT money until the state comptroller stepped in. Wireless Generation is owned by Robert Murdoch’s News Corp., which in turn employs Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education as the CEO of its education division.
2) In February, the regents approved the Relay School of Education, the first new education school it has approved in 80 years, to train teachers in a non-traditional manner. The Relay School grew out of Teacher U, a partnership between three charter school management companies and Hunter
College, whose dean of education is David Steiner, formerly the New York State commissioner of education.
3) Despite the RTTT dollars, the January Regents exams were on the chopping block until Mayor Bloomberg and several anonymous donors contributed enough money to finance some of the exams this January. While our state education department gleefully announces receipt of a federal grant in excess of $28 million to provide incentives for new charter schools, the students who need the administration of the January regents are dependent upon the goodwill of Mayor Bloomberg and his friends. Excuse me if I decline to celebrate the re-direction to charter schools of more public education dollars.

4) The Regents Research Foundation, funded by many of the private foundations mentioned above, as well as by the Tisch family and the National Association of Charter School Administrators, has privately hired research fellows to “advise” the commissioner. The eleven research fellows together have one year of principalship experience and ten years of teaching experience. They essen-tially act as shadow senior SED staff, playing a central role in policy development. I do not know who they report to.

It truly seems as if public education is being hijacked right in front of our eyes. It is being purchased by those few with the financial resources to do so. If the legislature won’t intervene by providing adequate funding for public education, and a majority of the Board of Regents is willing to allow the increasing influence of those who can afford to purchase it (at the expense of the Regents’ own influence and authority), then the blurring of private and public education will continue, and we can only hope that the motives of the buyers are not profit driven.