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Gov. Spitzer: 'What Might Have Been'

Here at Education Week, we divide up states among reporters, who are then charged with keeping tabs on education reform ideas in those states. We monitor the legislatures, the state chiefs, and the governor, especially around budget and State of the State times.

New York is my state. And so I gathered around the TV, with my colleagues, about an hour ago to watch Gov. Eliot Spitzer resign from office, in such an unfortunate and untimely way.

The "Sheriff of Wall Street" had great promise when he took office last year. After all, observers wondered what would happen if Spitzer were to concentrate his political capital and his desire to fix-what's-wrong-with-the-world into education reform? At a Jan. 29, 2007 speech I attended for this story, he said: “We are poised to begin implementing what may be the greatest reform agenda directly tied to the largest infusion of resources in our state’s history."

After that speech, education commissioner Richard Mills (who is hired by the Board of Regents), told me that the mere fact that Spitzer delivered that speech in the education building, and invited board members, was a sign that Spitzer wanted to work together to improve education. Educators were encouraged.

To help achieve this 'great reform', he enlisted the help of Manuel Rivera, the former Rochester, N.Y., superintendent who was going to take charge of Boston Public Schools before Spitzer tapped him to be his chief education adviser. Perhaps now Mr. Rivera will be persuaded to take that No. 2 job at LA Unified if offered.

Spitzer was tasked with helping make the state's school funding constitutional after years of court rulings that had indicated otherwise. He proposed more funding and changes to the overall school-funding formula, and was making progress. And he also crafted a "Contracts for Excellence" plan that attached strings, and accountability, to additional funding for schools.

He's also has been praised for lifting the cap on charter schools in New York, which advocates had tried to accomplish for years.

More recently, Spitzer has taken some heat for proposing a budget that education advocates said didn't provide enough additional money for schools, especially in light of court rulings.

So what happens to Spitzer's most ambitious reform agenda?

Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who is legally blind and will become the nation's second serving African-American governor, will take over and put his own stamp on it, starting Monday. So I'll keep you posted as I learn more the education priorities of New York's new governor. (UPDATE: Read my colleague Christina Samuels' post on her Special Education blog.)

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