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New York Budget Agreement Brings Changes, Uncertainty on Teacher Issues

As our colleague Andrew has reported over on State EdWatch, lawmakers in New York today reached a compromise agreement on the state's budget for the upcoming fiscal year. From his post:

Associated Press reports that the agreement between lawmakers and Cuomo reached on Sunday would boost education spending by $1.4 billion up to about $23.5 billion annually, according to Sen. Dean Skelos, a Republican who leads his chamber—the budget deal hadn't been formally signed into law as of the morning of March 30. However, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, put the aid hike at $1.6 billion, according to Chalkbeat New York. Either way, it's more than what Cuomo wanted [i.e., $1.1 billion], but less than the spending increase sought by unions. (The new fiscal year in New York starts April 1.)

The budget negotations had hinged education issues—in large part because Gov. Andrew's Cuomo proposals had sought to tie millions of dollars in education aid to initiatives to alter teacher accountability.

In his proposal, Cuomo wanted to increase the weight of students' standardized-test scores to 50 percent of a teacher's evaluation (up from the current 20 percent). But under the compromise, the task of developing the specifics of new evaluation systems has been handed off to the New York education department. (This would appear, at least for now, to table the idea to create a special legislative commission for evaluations that was being batted around last week.) According to Capital New York, the education department would be expected to have the details of the new system in place by this June, while districts would be required to submit their plans for compliance by November.

By reports, the compromise agreement specifies that the new evaluation system must incorporate both student test scores and observations, with the optional use of an additional or alternative assessment developed by the department. Also according to Capital New York, there been some speculation among lawmakers that the revised evaluation system could be based not on fixed percentages but on a matrix model under which certain indicators would need to be met in accordance with the ratings categories.

Cuomo had also wanted to require that teachers complete five years in the classroom before they receive tenure protections (up from the current three years). Under the compromise framework, the magic number is four years—but teachers would also have to earn "effective" or "highly effective ratings" in three of those years.

The framework also includes measures designed to make it easier to terminate teachers who receive ineffective ratings in consecutive years.

The New York State United Teachers clearly had mixed feelings about the overall agreement.

"The Legislature, led by the Assembly, mitigated some of the worst elements of Gov. Cuomo's toxic agenda after parents and teachers stood up to his bullying," NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said in an emailed statement. "School aid for our kids is moving forward and public schools and colleges will get much-needed state increases. However, while Gov. Cuomo's attempt to double down on testing has been stopped for now, too much of his destructive agenda remains on the table."

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