Schenectady City School Superintendent Laurence Spring said the education reforms Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his State of the State address Wednesday — like a bar exam for teachers and extended day and school years — are well intentioned.
However, Spring was upset about what he didn’t hear in the speech — changing the education funding formula to increase aid to needy schools, which he has been vocal about in the last few weeks.
Schenectady is getting less than 55 percent of the aid it was due to receive under a 2007 court settlement that said the state shortchanged schools. While the recession forced the state to pull back aid to all schools, Spring said other schools have been cut disproportionately less.
“This formula does not meet the equity test,” he said.
Spring found it particularly difficult to listen to Cuomo after he shifted from education to the next topic — a proposed increase in the minimum wage.
Spring also criticized Cuomo’s proposal of a competitive grant program for districts that increase learning time by at least 25 percent by extending the school day and/or year.
“Putting these good programs out there but forcing districts to compete for dollars that rightfully by law they should be getting, it is harmful to the system,” he said.
The New York State Council of School Superintendents took a similar view.
“In so many communities, the financial prospects for schools are dire. Local leaders and families are asking how their schools can preserve basic services and give their children the learning opportunities they will need to thrive in life after school,” said Executive Director Robert J. Reidy Jr. “For many of these most challenged districts, competitive grant programs seem like unwinnable prizes — their resources are spread so thin they just can’t compete.”
New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy Kremer also cited the lack of specifics regarding aid — nor any mention of mandate reform.
“Without adequate state funding or meaningful mandate relief, the governor’s ambitious proposals will fall victim to the budget realities facing New York schools,” he said in a press release.
Cuomo’s other proposals won universal praise including expanding full-day pre-kindergarten and community schools in needy areas, which would offer education as well as health, employment after school and other support services.
Spring said this is similar to the $2.4 million grant that the district received to offer mental health services, counselors, parental classes and other resources at Lincoln Elementary School.
He would love to do it in every one of the schools. However, one issue is that when grant funding runs out, sustaining those type of combination community and school programs becomes very difficult.
Spring said there was merit to the ideas of having a “bar exam” for teachers and a $15,000 bonus for master teachers who would train others. There is a fair amount of research that shows that rewarding all teachers the same — regardless of how good a job they do — pushes people toward mediocrity. However, he said it is not the only factor.
“There are not people out there withholding their best efforts because they’re not getting that extra $10,000,” he said.
New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi also supported the idea of a teacher bar exam and having high-performing teachers receive bonuses as mentors. That creates a “career ladder” for teachers that the union has suggested.
Regarding extended learning time, Iannuzzi said it sounds like a great idea if the state is going shoulder the additional cost. “The question is will those dollars run out so there isn’t enough money?”
The Alliance for Quality Education and other groups endorsed the ideas of full-day pre-kindergarten and investing more in high-needs schools, which Executive Director Billy Easton said have a proven track record of success.
Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York in a press release, said that investing in early learning makes sense both educationally and economically.
“When children are ready for kindergarten, their chances at success skyrocket, and our communities will see a significant return on the investment,” she said.
Cuomo’s higher education proposals also won high marks. Cuomo proposed offering incentives for colleges that link graduates with jobs. More than 200,000 jobs in New York are unfilled because companies can’t find people with the skills to do the work, according to the governor. “A generic job training program just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need a job linkage program,” he said.
Schenectady County Community College Board of Trustees Chairwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said the college has been reaching out to employers to figure out what their needs are and creating programs based on those needs.
“It fits perfectly with the message that we always talk about at Schenectady County Community College — meeting the needs of employers,” he said.