Cuomo unveils plan to expand community schools, urges scrutiny of charter enrollment
Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed boosting state education spending, particularly for troubled schools, in an agenda-setting speech Wednesday that shied away from the contentious education proposals that defined last year’s address.
His most significant proposal was a $100 million plan to convert struggling schools into resource-filled “community” schools. He also called for more funding and oversight for charter schools, a $2.1 billion increase in school funding over the next two years, and a series of changes to the Common Core learning standards, which a state panel recommended last month.
The changes include a temporary ban on the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, which marks a reversal from Cuomo’s proposal in last year’s State of the State address to increase the weight of test scores in evaluations. Cuomo did not mention the evaluations on Wednesday, but instead blamed the state education department for a bungled rollout of the standards and assessments, which he suggested had fueled parents’ massive test boycott last year.
The changes are necessary to restore the public’s faith in the state’s education system, he said.
“The education system fails without parental trust,” he said during his roughly two-hour budget and policy speech.
Groups that say the state’s urban schools are severely underfunded were disappointed by Cuomo’s proposed budget increase, while charter school groups were pleased with the idea of extra funds. His more modest education plans this year avoided the fierce attacks by critics that last year’s speech provoked — particularly the state teachers union, which called last year’s speech “intellectually hollow” and “misguided.”
On Wednesday, the union called Cuomo’s latest address “a starting point that sets a positive tone for public education.”
More funding for community schools
The governor wants to earmark $100 million to expand the number of “community” schools, which would provide before-and-after school mentoring, summer activities, and health services to students.
Of that $100 million, $75 million will be allocated to the 17 districts that have schools the state has designated as struggling based on their low test scores or graduation rates. (Last year, only “persistently struggling” schools were eligible to receive a portion of $75 million set aside for turnaround efforts.)
New York City has led the charge on creating community schools. Adding extra support services to struggling schools is at the center of the city’s “Renewal” improvement program, which predated the state’s turnaround effort.
More funding, and enrollment scrutiny, for charter schools
Cuomo, a longtime supporter of the charter-school movement, had mixed messages for charter schools.
He made it clear that he supports the development of more charter schools. His budget proposal increases funding for charter schools by $27 million and will allow the per-pupil funding formula for charter schools to change. (The state’s charter law has frozen per-pupil spending in recent years, frustrating charter advocates who note that their budgets haven’t increased even as district school budgets have.)
“Governor Cuomo’s proposal is a vital element of fixing funding inequity for charter schools,” the pro-charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools said in a statement.
He also said he wants state officials to examine the enrollment and retention policies at charter schools. There’s been “anecdotal evidence of troubling practices,” the budget materials read.
That could be a shot at Success Academy, the largest charter school network in New York City, which has been under scrutiny recently after one principal created a “Got to Go” list of troublesome students.
Common Core, state tests, and a final flip-flop
The governor officially accepted all 21 recommendations of made by his Common Core task force in December. It recommended editing the controversial learning standards, especially those for the youngest students, and a number of changes to state tests. The task force also recommended suspending the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations.
Cuomo’s endorsement of the suggestions represents a complete reversal of his policy on teacher evaluations. Last year he used his State of the State Speech to call for tougher teacher evaluations. At Cuomo’s urging, the legislature passed a law that required standardized testing counted for about half a teacher’s evaluation.
The law helped spark a state test opt-out movement that included 20 percent of public school students statewide.
The governor proposed a $2.1 billion increase in state aid to schools over the next two years and a $1 billion increase this year. Cuomo’s materials boast that the allocation would increase school aid to the highest level in history, though it’s lower than the Board of Regents proposal for $2.4 billion in the 2016-17 school year.
It’s also lower than what many education interest groups want. The New York State Educational Conference Board, which is comprised of groups like the state teachers union and the council of school superintendents, suggested a $2.2 billion increase.
Cuomo also proposed eliminating the $434 million Gap Elimination Adjustment, which cut education funding during the financial crisis based on a formula that took a district’s share of high-needs students into account.
With mayoral control of New York City’s schools set to expire this year, the governor said Wednesday that he supports a three-year extension.
He also supported a three-year extension last January, but ended up renewing the law for only a year amid a public feud between with Mayor Bill de Blasio, who accused Cuomo of using mayoral control as a “political football.”
The mayor struck a more conciliatory tone after governor’s speech.
“I would say this is a system that should be locked in for the long-term, or certainly extended on a longer basis,” de Blasio said in a press conference after the speech, “but I appreciate that the governor put forward a specific number.”
The budget included an additional $22 million for pre-kindergarten programs specifically for three year olds. The investment should create 2,000 to 2,500 new pre-K seats across the state.
Cuomo also supports additional monitoring of pre-K programs. An additional $2 million would support QUALITYstarsNY, a program that reviews early education programs. In the past, pre-K sites didn’t have to use the program. Under Cuomo’s plan, those serving high-needs students would be required to participate or lose state funding.
New York City, where de Blasio has made the expansion of pre-K a signature issue, is using its own system to review individual pre-K programs. Last month, the city announced results from its first review, which indicated that about 77 percent of pre-K programs were meeting a benchmark that shows positive impact on students.
This article was first published by Chalkbeat New York on Jan. 13.