Cuomo's Budget Targets Evaluations, Busing and Special Ed

5:41 p.m. | Updated With reaction to the proposals.

As foreshadowed in news media reports, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's executive budget has quite a bit to say about education in New York. Along with a four percent spending increase -- contingent on school districts adopting new teacher evaluations -- the budget includes changes to student busing and special education spending.

Here's an outline of what's in the governor's budget, and below, a sampling of the reaction to the governor's education proposals:

Four Percent Spending Increase:
As reported in The New York Times on Tuesday, Mr. Cuomo's executive budget links a four percent increase in state aid to school districts' adoption of the new teacher evaluation system outlined in a 2010 law.

School districts have until Jan. 17, 2013, to embrace the new system, which rates teachers in four categories: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective, and creates tougher sanctions against teachers who are rated ineffective. "A new and truly effective teacher evaluation system must be implemented within the next year," the budget states.

Aid for High-Need Districts:
Mr. Cuomo's budget states that 76 percent of the increase in state aid will be directed to high-need school districts, but that does not include $250 million that will be used for performance grants. Of the $805 million increase in aid, $290 million will go to general support and $265 million will go to reimbursing districts for programs such as school construction and student transportation.

Special Education:
As one of his "major initiatives," Mr. Cuomo is trying to reign in the state's spending on special education services, which has doubled over the past decade as the number of children with disabilities has risen. He is proposing to cut $20 million in spending on preschool special education programs to districts outside of New York City by changing how the programs are funded.

He has also proposed saving $99 million over five years through cost reductions to the state's early intervention program, which offers therapy and support services to children younger than three with disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy.

Student Busing:
The governor wants to centralize student transportation by creating one contract for the purchase of school buses that will cover every school district in the state. Mr. Cuomo's budget notes that this will give districts increased purchasing power and "eliminate technical obstacles to shared maintenance and other services between districts." Districts will have to buy buses through the state's contract, or risk not being reimbursed.

Performance Grants:
The governor's own Race to the Top program for school districts is underway, financed in last year's budget, and will award $150 million to districts this school year to be spent over the next three years. Tuesday's budget proposal expands the program, adding $200 million in awards to be paid out next school year.

Teacher Disciplinary Hearings:
According to Mr. Cuomo's budget proposal, New York State shoulders the cost of teachers' sometimes lengthy disciplinary hearings, giving districts and unions little cause to move at a faster clip. Under the governor's budget, school districts and unions will share the cost of teachers' hearings "so that both have a stake in the timeliness of the process," the budget states.

Mr. Cuomo has also proposed to set a limit on the hearings' cost and fire hearing officers who fail to comply with the 155 day deadline for disciplinary hearings. On average, these hearings now take 653 days.

Freezing Additional Aid:
Extra money for school districts, including for New York City, that was awarded in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit will continue to be distributed at the level set in the 2011-12 school year.

Here is reaction so far from some people involved in the schools, or in the decision-making about the schools:

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew: "I’d first like to thank the governor for his leadership in today’s budget address and I am hoping that the pressure will now be put on the mayor, will make him come back to the negotiating table and help us get this evaluation system done, which is what we want to do."

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said Mr. Cuomo was "right to be frustrated" with the lack of progress made on a new evaluation system. In a statement, Mr. King said that the governor had called for the state's teachers union to settle its lawsuit -- one of the major impediments to school districts' adoption of the new evaluation system -- and gave the state and the union 30 days to resolve their conflict over how much of a teacher's annual review can depend on students' state test scores.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: "The Governor has made it clear that he is determined to be a champion for our students -- and that he will not allow the teachers’ union to drag its feet any longer on implementing new teacher evaluation systems across the state. I hope the UFT will not recklessly jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars for our schools by insisting on endless obstacles to removing ineffective teachers from our classrooms. The Governor has rightly said he will not tolerate this and will help deliver rigorous teacher evaluations for our State and City."

Christine C. Quinn
, the City Council speaker: “This is the strongest state budget that New York City has seen in a long time. With this new budget, Governor Cuomo is establishing a stronger financial basis for a more vibrant and healthy New York.”

Ernest A. Logan, president, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, which represents the city's principals: “We agree with Governor Cuomo that the teacher and Principal evaluation plan needs to be fully implemented no later than January 2013. But disproportionately basing an educator’s evaluation on a solitary test violates the letter and spirit of the evaluation statute, which requires that a teacher and principal evaluation should be based on multiple student achievement measures.”

And here's what's been circulating on Twitter: