Selected readings on US charter schools
The annual battle over public education funding in New York will pit teachers and school boards against a strong charter school lobby with deep pockets and backing from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is talking about breaking what he calls the public school “monopoly.”
Also at stake is how billions of dollars in windfall bank settlements are doled out to competing interests, including improving schools.
New York spent about $22 billion on education last year, about 1.1 billion, or 5.4 percent, more than the previous year. Advocates are looking for an average of $2 billion more in the budget Cuomo will propose later this month.
While the Board of Regents sets education policy in the state, the budget process gives the governor a chance to make his priorities known and even change policy. Last year’s budget, for example, included provisions to smooth implementation of the Common Core learning standards, including capping the amount of time used for standardized tests and ensuring scores won’t appear on students’ permanent records.
Already, Cuomo has promised an aggressive education reform agenda in the new year. A December letter from his operations director, Jim Malatras, offered a potential preview. In it, the administration sought suggestions from the Regents and outgoing Education Commissioner John King Jr. on several volatile issues, including whether to increase the cap on charter schools, push district mergers, strengthen teacher evaluations and cede control of schools to mayors.
The letter followed recent remarks by Cuomo to the New York Daily News in which he referred to the public education system as a monopoly that should be broken.
Cuomo and Senate Republicans support more charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, and charter schools have been pressing for changes in the state’s funding formula, saying it delivers only a portion of resources received by traditional public schools. But critics, including the New York State United Teachers union, view charters as an attempt by wealthy campaign donors to privatize public education while draining public resources.
“There is zero evidence that charter schools are working,” NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said. “The issue is poverty. When 97 percent of students attend traditional public schools, that should be the state’s priority, not creating more schools that are unaccountable to taxpayers and which siphon money away from community schools that serve all children.”
Also factoring into this year’s budget discussion is the $5 billion from settlements with banks and insurance companies.
The Regents want a $678 million share to accelerate prekindergarten funding payments and reimburse districts owed money because of population or transportation shifts. NYSUT sees an opportunity to increase funding to the numerous districts it says are operating with less state aid than in 2008. The New York Association of School Business Officials says a $384 million share could, among other things, help districts respond to the surge in unaccompanied minors. About 2,500 immigrant children from Central America have been placed with relatives on Long Island in recent months following a wave of border crossings by youngsters who have come into the United States seeking asylum.
Meanwhile, the Regents, the school business officials association and Educational Conference Board, a coalition that includes the state Parent Teacher Association and Council of School Superintendents, all are seeking restoration of “Gap Elimination Adjustment” funding, money diverted from schools in recent years to close state budget deficits.
“The upcoming state budget process provides the opportunity to turn the corner from the toughest fiscal challenges of the recent past and fund education in a manner that is adequate, equitable and stable so that schools may make sustainable progress,” the Conference Board said in outlining its school aid recommendations. “The ability to do this is in sight — more so than any other time in recent years.”
Also adding to the financial picture is voter approval in November of a $2 billion bond act to be shared by districts for computers, Internet upgrades, security improvements and classrooms for pre-K students. Cuomo proposed the Smart Schools Bond Act during his last State of the State address.
Source: The Legislative Gazette by Carolyn Thompson