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New York Gov. Cuomo Ties $1.1 Billion Aid Increase to Sweeping Policy Changes

Earlier this month, I wrote about how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was poised to push a boatload of controversial education policy changes related to teacher evaluations, teacher tenure, and other matters. In his Jan. 21 State of the State speech, Cuomo got a chance to show exactly how many of those changes he would actually propose. And he ended up proposing quite a few of them. 

Here's how Cuomo, a Democrat, plans to get what he wants: He's willing to increase general state aid to public schools by $1.1 billion in the upcoming budget, but only if Empire State lawmakers agree to big changes to K-12.

And he didn't dance around the importance he placed on his education agenda: "This is the area my friends where I think we need to do the most reform, and where reform is going to be the most difficult ... Our education system needs dramatic reform, and it has for years. I believe this is the year to do it."

These are Cuomo's major proposals:

  • Instead of the current system of teacher evaluations that involves local collective bargaining, Cuomo wants a new law requiring half of a teacher's evaluation to be based on students' results on state standardized assessments. The other half would be based on classroom observations. This, Cuomo argued, would stop the local "inflation" of evaluation ratings.
  • Teachers couldn't receive satisfactory overall ratings unless they received high enough ratings in each of those two areas of their evaluations.
  • Teachers who receive two ineffective ratings would be dismissed from their jobs unless they could show that the evaluations were somehow faulty.
  • On the flip side, teachers who receive the highest possible ratings for a school year would receive a $20,000 bonus on top of their salaries.
  • The probationary period for teachers after which they can receive tenure would increase from three years to five years.
  • And regarding the teacher pipeline issue, Cuomo proposed paying full tuition for top teacher-candidates at the State University of New York and City University of New York if they agree to teach in the state for five years.
  • The current cap on charter schools would increase by 100 up to 560 charter schools. And in a separate school choice measure, he wants to give a tax credit to those who donate money to public or private schools.
  • However, Cuomo also wants "anti-creaming" legislation to ensure that charter schools accept an appropriate variety of students.

In his speech, Cuomo said that he was accepting the proposals that state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch outlined in her response to Cuomo's letter to the regents last month in which he asked about the viability of K-12 policy changes. 

Cuomo also seeks a new $25 million program to provide pre-kindergarten services for 3-year-olds. 

What were responses to the governor's speech? The New York State United Teachers, a long-time Cuomo foe, blasted the governor, with the union's president, Karen Magee, saying that Cuomo was misrepresenting the state's public schools: "The state's systemic failure to provide enough resources for all of its students and to do so equitably—while giving all teachers the tools and support they needis the real crisis and the one our governor is trying to sweep under the rug." 

Other union representatives weren't happy either:

(That's former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that Michael Mulgrew is referring to.) And another Cuomo antagonist, New York State Allies for Public Education, a group that opposes the state's testing regimen, said it's against the state constitution for Cuomo to tie his K-12 policy proposals to the state budget.

On the other side of the ledger are groups like StudentsFirst New York, the Empire State chapter of the K-12 advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee, which thinks that the governor is taking action on some badly needed reforms:

And Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy group of charter schools, had similar sentiments about the drastic need for change:

So will Cuomo keep his $1.1 billion funding pledge only if all of his proposed changes are approved by legislators? Stay tuned.

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