January 23, 2012
State Education Commissioner John King spent most of his time before legislators today going to bat for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed schools budget.
But on one key point, he said the Board of Regents would prefer a change. The Regents would rather not hinge so much of the state’s funds on a competition among districts, King said.
Cuomo proposed using $250 million of a proposed $800 million school aid increase to reward districts for strong academic performance and management efficiency. King said the Regents, whose agenda is similar but not identical to Cuomo’s, would slash that number by 80 percent. They would still hand out $50 million through a competition but think the remaining $200 million would be better used helping high-needs districts cover their expenses, he said.
The proposal is similar to what was proposed by the Alliance for Quality Education, a group that Cuomo’s office has named as a nemesis, and augurs a possible battle over the budget in the two months before it must be approved.
During today’s joint State Senate and Assembly hearing on the state’s elementary and secondary education budget in Albany, legislators wanted to talk about another one of Cuomo’s strings-attached school funding proposals: to tie districts’ state aid to new teacher evaluations.
Last month, King cut off federal funds to 10 districts, including New York City, when they did not meet a deadline for negotiating new teacher evaluations. King said today he expected all of those districts to appeal his decision and was helping most of them redo their applications to include promises of tougher teacher evaluations.
The “nagging issue” of appeals for low ratings, which caused the negotiations impasse in New York City, is trickier to resolve, King said.
“Certainly that is a source of concern for the governor, for the mayor, to me,” he said. “But at the same time it’s not the department’s role to mediate local collective bargaining agreements.”
Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier this month that the city would adopt a new school improvement model, turnaround, that does not require new teacher evaluations. The city still has not formally submitted applications for that change, King said today, adding that the applications could take weeks to review when they do arrive.
“It’s a very large change they are proposing to make, to many schools,” King said. “Their challenge will be to explain how … turnaround makes sense for the students in those schools.”
During his testimony later in the hearing, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the city anticipated filing applications for each school within the next two weeks — bringing the city to the brink of a legal deadline to notify schools that are being proposed for closure.
Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s education committee, criticized the turnaround plans, which require half of the teachers to be removed at 33 low-performing schools.
“These schools need support and they need services. They don’t need turmoil,” she said. “To change [plans] midstream is causing a great deal of upsetness.”
But Nolan’s criticism did not extend to the city’s position on teacher evaluations. She didn’t bring the issue up during her first round of questions for Walcott, but when the chancellor was preparing to leave the stand, she said the “Twitterverse” had instructed her to ask about evaluations.
After offering Walcott a chance to add more about the city’s position, Nolan said he had her “complete cooperation” moving forward.
In his testimony, Walcott lauded Cuomo’s aid-for-evaluations gambit and the restoration of funding proposed for January Regents exams. For the second year in a row, Walcott also pushed legislators to consider making it quicker and easier for districts to fire teachers accused of misconduct. But just as happened last year, he agreed with legislators who said the city’s misconduct hearings, known as 3020-a hearings, are the most efficient in the state.
Both Walcott and UFT President Michael Mulgrew said they would not support the state’s bid to pass on some costs of the 3020-a hearings to local districts. Cuomo said in his State of the State speech that doing so would give districts an incentive to speed hearings. But Walcott said today that districts are already motivated to move quickly through hearings so they can free up the salaries of teachers who are dismissed.
In his testimony before the legislators, Mulgrew said the UFT remains committed to hammering out new teacher evaluations with the city.
“I like the idea that the governor put more pressure on all of us,” he said.
He also asked legislators to earmark $5 million to expand the College Now program, which allows city students to take college courses while still in high school.
Walcott’s complete testimony is below.