Streams

Regents and Cuomo Split on School Performance Grants

Monday, January 23, 2012 - 03:37 PM

On the issue of public school funding, at least one point of disagreement emerged at a hearing on Monday between the budgets proposed by the state’s Board of Regents and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo: the amount of money to be devoted to performance grants.

In his executive budget, put forth last week, Mr. Cuomo set aside $250 million for the grants, which would reward school districts that are managed well and where students perform well. At the hearing before the State Legislature, the education commissioner, John B. King Jr., said the Regents would set aside just $50 million for the grants, the same amount that was proposed by Mr. Cuomo last year. The remaining $200 million would go to districts across the state serving a large number of poor students.

Mr. Cuomo’s proposal stipulates that some $600 million of the $805 million increase in state aid go to poor districts.

The difference of opinion between the governor and the Regents reflects a difference in approach. Mr. Cuomo argues that devoting more money to rewarding school districts for their performance will encourage them all — rich or poor, successful or struggling — to push harder to improve schools.

“Right now, New York is first in spending in education and 38th in results,” Josh Vlasto, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said in an e-mail. “Just spending more on the bureaucracy without demanding accountability and results doesn’t work.”

For his part, Dr. King said the Regents’ plan was part of an effort to offset the effects that caps on increases in state aid, at 4 percent, and property taxes — at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less — would have on education spending statewide.

Based on projections by the Regents, which Dr. King presented at the hearing, the caps would carve an $18 billion gap between schools districts’ expenditures and revenues for the 2016-17 school year. (The property tax cap will affect only local governments and school districts outside New York City, which pays for schools and other services through a variety of taxes.)

Ultimately, the goal is to bridge the persistent differences in performance between students in rich and poor districts, Dr. King said. The other part of the effort includes installing a system to assess the quality of teachers and principals working in public schools. Mr. Cuomo made it a prime target in his budget address, giving districts, and their unions, one year to reach a compromise on an evaluation system or face losing their share of the state aid increase.

Dr. King and the New York City schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, endorsed the governor’s evaluation proposal on Monday. During his own testimony, Mr. Walcott told legislators, “If our teachers succeed, our students succeed.”

One overarching issue raised by the school district officials and union leaders who testified was the cost of complying with the requirements of the federal Race to the Top program, which awarded New York $700 million in education funding in exchange for certain commitments, which have been written into law. One of them calls for the adoption of an evaluation system for teachers and principals statewide. Another calls for the use of a new curriculum standard, known as common core.

Among the specifics was Mr. Walcott’s suggestion that special-needs children be able to opt out of taking yellow buses to school, currently a requirement, which could save the city $5 million to $10 million annually.

Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, a Democrat from Nassau County, wanted to know how music and band teachers would be evaluated, given that there are no standardized tests to gauge their students’ performance. Dr. King replied, “Student performance is an important factor, but not the only factor.” He added that classroom observations would be “critical.”

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