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State education budget garners mixed reactions

by jmaloni


Fri, Apr 3rd 2015 04:50 pm

After much worry in school districts throughout the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has released a state budget with large increases in education funding. However, the news has been met with mixed reactions.

For Starpoint Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan, who received the district's state aid run Tuesday afternoon, the news was a relief.

"My initial reaction is, the news is outstanding for the Starpoint school district," he said shortly after reading the report. "For us, the major improvement is the lowering of the Gap Elimination Adjustment. And I'm just very thankful the budget did that for the Starpoint residents."

The district's GEA was reduced from $1.6 million to $600,000, ultimately resulting in an additional $1 million in state aid. Whelan said the other numbers in the report fell within the district's initial estimates for spending, which spelled a positive outcome for this year's budget.

However, groups and officials across the state have also spoken out against the budget. Of course, the increase in state aid isn't the problem for those groups. Rather, the issue is the education reform tied with it - specifically, a new system of teacher evaluations.

The New York State Council of School Superintendents and New York State School Boards Association released a joint statement prior to the budget's passing that read, in part, "The well-known definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Since 2010, legislation to change the teacher evaluation system in New York has been passed three times. The proposals currently under consideration as a part of state budget negotiations will be the fourth attempt in five years.

"In 2012, the Governor and the Legislature passed changes to the evaluation system and tied the annual increase in school funding to adoption of local, collectively bargained plans by a deadline. Many of the deficiencies of the current system which the governor cites are the direct result of that linkage, which forced districts to bargain APPR plans with the threat of losing state aid hanging over their heads. Now policymakers are considering the same thing again, hoping for a different outcome.

"... The current teacher evaluation system is not perfect, and changes are certainly warranted, but this proposal would double-down on the system's deficiencies and undermine its current successes."

In the end, a new system of teacher evaluations was approved, though the specifics were unclear as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Common Core and standardized testing caused another division between parties who praised the overall increase in education funding versus those who objected to the included reforms.

Assemblyman John Ceretto of Lewiston voted against the budget, citing testing as a primary reason.

"This legislation further entrenched the over-testing that has come to define our education system under Common Core. I could not in good conscience vote for legislation that was so unanimously opposed by the parents, students and teachers who will feel the effects of this firsthand," he said. "I have stood with them and will continue to stand with them as we work to fully fund our schools and enact education reforms with the input of the parents, students and teachers who know our schools best."

On the other hand, in the Senate, Sen. Rob Ortt focused on the positive impacts.

"This budget increases state education aid by over $1.4 billion across the state to bring total state education spending in my district to over $457 million - well beyond the levels that the governor proposed," Ortt said. "It eliminates most of the disastrous Gap Elimination Adjustment, which will save our local schools nearly $18 million."

With a compromise between Cuomo's original, stricter education reform and an increased education budget, the lasting effects on the school districts and their students remain to be seen.

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