By Assemblyman Will Barclay
The second biggest budget item in the state budget is education, which is right behind healthcare.
Last year, the state spent $22.3 billion on education. In 2012, combined with the local and federal share of education, New Yorkers spent $58.4 billion on public education.
This is a 56% increase over what was spent on a combined basis in 2002.
This year, the Governor proposes to spend $23.14 billion on education. This represents a $1.1 billion increase over last year.
However, the Governor’s proposal contains one big stipulation – this increase in school aid will be enacted only if all of his education proposals included in his budget bill are adopted by the Legislature.
His education proposals are controversial and include changes to teacher evaluations, tenure, and certification.
If his proposals are not adopted, the Governor will support a $377 million increase in school aid.
People should be troubled by the Governor’s efforts to tie the implementation of his proposals to increases in state aid for schools, regardless of how one feels about the proposals.
If the Governor is the advocate for students like he claims, and his proposals are as necessary as he claims, they should rise or fall on their own merits.
He should not attempt to ram these changes through with the promise of much-needed additional educational aid for school districts.
Also troubling is the fact that the Governor, breaking with tradition, is refusing to release school aid runs for individual districts based on his school aid proposals.
There are many variables that determine how much state aid a school district receives.
Because state aid is a significant part of a school’s revenue, they need that number to create a budget and ultimately determine their tax levies.
Generally, a school district can conservatively use the Governor’s numbers because the Governor’s school aid proposals are historically lower than the amount the school districts ultimately receive when the state budget is passed.
Not providing school aid runs based on the Governor’s numbers presents a difficulty to districts who, by law, must submit their proposed tax levies to the State Comptroller by March 1.
Lawmakers have until April 1 to pass the State Budget.
Among the proposals he’s demanding, the Governor wants 50% of teacher evaluations based on students’ state test scores.
The other 50% will be based on classroom observations.
Currently, 20% of the evaluation hinges on state test scores, and in some cases 40%, depending on the district.
What’s interesting to note is the turn the Governor took.
Prior to the election this past fall, the Governor proposed legislation that disassociated Common Core student test scores from teacher evaluations for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years for teachers rated developing or ineffective.
The bill passed almost unanimously in both houses.
However, after the election, the Governor vetoed the same bill he proposed.
Since that time, he has come back with a teacher evaluation proposal that would allow student test scores to determine 50% of the teacher evaluation score, despite the fact that last year, almost every legislator voted to place less emphasis on student testing.
Having 50% of a teacher’s evaluation based on student test scores places too much emphasis on student testing and gives an unfair advantage to higher wealth school districts that typically have more support staff and smaller class sizes, and frankly, the funds to hire outside tutors.
We need a teacher evaluation system that holds teachers accountable, but test scores shouldn’t determine half of a teacher’s effectiveness.
It penalizes low-wealth school district teachers the most, the places that need good teachers.
Parents have told me they want less testing in general in the classrooms.
Our state has children from all different backgrounds and abilities taking the same test.
In general, we need to be careful that we’re not placing a greater emphasis on data and averages than we are on kids and the people who care about them.
I sponsored legislation last year that would place a moratorium on Common Core while we evaluate if the new curriculum is best for kids and education but the Assembly speaker blocked those measures from getting to the Assembly floor for a vote.
A more reasonable approach would have been to start the new modules in the new kindergarten class, and allow students to build from there, rather than forcing all grade levels at once to take on the new modules.
The shaky rollout left many kids confused, failing, and feeling frustrated because their lessons were based on the previous year’s Common Core lesson, which they never had.
Teachers had to play catch up and teach math concepts to fourth graders, for example, that were previously taught to junior high students.
Further, many educators still debate the tests’ merits and some have reported the tests are flawed.
In addition, the teacher evaluations is an unfunded mandate placed on school districts. The evaluations take time and staff hours to complete.
Last year, my Republican colleagues and I offered an amendment to the budget bill which would require the state to reimburse school districts for expenses related to the implementation of teacher evaluation systems. This was defeated in the Assembly 50-88.
The Governor’s system could cost more for taxpayers, as he is proposing an independent evaluator, which could be someone who is hired by the district or a principal from another school, to evaluate teachers.
In general on funding, I would like to see additional funding for low-wealth school districts, and to put an end to the gap elimination adjustment (GEA) in this year’s budget.
Beginning in 2009-10, monetary restraints caused the state to reduce its budget, which resulted in out-year cuts for school districts.
In 2011-12, the state cut aid to schools by more than $2.5 billion with the promise to repay.
Last year, we restored $602.11 million of that GEA to districts.
We still owe school districts $1 billion in funding from years past.
Let’s close that gap entirely with this budget and pay what we owe to the school districts.
These investments have the potential to hold the line on property taxes.
I would like to know your thoughts on education and what you believe should be priorities going forward.
My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.