Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability

Statement on Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State Education “Priorities”

For Immediate Release:  Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Contact:  B. Jason Brooks, Director of Research
(518) 383-2598

(pdf)

Statement by Brian D. Backstrom, President of the Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability:

“A year ago, Governor Cuomo used his State of the State message to announce that he would ‘wage a campaign to put students first’ and would hand-pick a panel of education experts to provide him with an ‘action plan’ for reform. Sadly, while the education priorities identified today can be combined with those of his commission as good ideas, as a whole the education agenda offered by Gov. Cuomo today is underwhelming, and does little more than nibble around the edge of real reform.”

“An overhaul of the state’s public educational system is needed, and the plan outlined in the Governor’s speech doesn’t even get us close. Let’s hope the state legislature recognizes this glaring void, and uses this year’s session to finally take on the entrenched education establishment and enact the bolder, more comprehensive reforms that New York families deserve.”

A summary of innovative reforms that offer a solid start on improving student achievement and reforming the state’s educational system – without requiring significant new education funding – appears below.

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EDUCATION REFORMS FOR NEW YORK

Mayoral Control: Allow city school boards – including those in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and 16 other school districts that have the same boundaries as their cities – to be replaced by a mayoral-control form of school governance. Properly designed mayoral-control school systems significantly increase direct accountability of public school systems and, as both research and the experience in New York City and Yonkers shows, can achieve significantly improved student academic outcomes.

Parent Trigger: Empower parents to form “parent unions” with the ability to petition for a redesign of their children’s persistently failing public schools. Include among the reform options: closing the failing school and re-opening it as an independently governed and managed charter school; allow students to transfer to any non-failing area public or private school, shifting the per pupil spending for that child from the failed school to the school of choice; and, for city schools, transferring governance of the school to the mayor.

Open Enrollment: Provide an immediate escape avenue for thousands of students in failing schools by enacting an open-enrollment policy statewide that allows students to transfer to quality public schools located within and outside of their districts of residence. No longer would bureaucrats be able to draw lines on a map forcing families to send their children to low-performing public schools.

Student-Based Funding: Replace the state’s antiquated and unnecessarily complex education funding formula with a simple process that treats children equally and allows per-pupil funding to follow students to the public schools they attend.

Public Charter Schools: Eliminate the statutory cap on the number of new charter schools that may be opened, allow them to contract with groups such as BOCES to better serve special education students, and allow them to serve pre-kindergarten students.

Opportunity Scholarships and Education Tax Credits: Provide publicly-funded K-12 scholarships to students trapped in failing public schools to transfer to better performing private schools of their choice. Stimulate private-sector contributions to education through the creation of tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship-granting organizations.

Pension Reform and Collective Bargaining Issues: End the extreme and unsustainable financial retirement packages offered by school districts by replacing guaranteed-benefit pensions with reasonable defined-contribution 401(k)-style plans, adopting more modest retirement health-benefit packages, and further raising the retirement age. A panel of state-based expert contract negotiators should be deployed to help districts to secure such reforms, as well as to gain contract provisions allowing longer school days and school years, reforming tenure provisions, and allowing merit-based pay for star teachers.

Teacher Performance Reviews: Ensure quality teacher-evaluation systems are implemented and used statewide by requiring districts that fail to timely implement a plan that meets minimum state standards for quality and comprehensiveness to implement a state-mandated innovative, high-quality “default” plan.

Teacher Education: Require and hold college and university programs training future teachers accountable for all graduates, publicly reporting the performance of recent graduating teacher classes. Require periodic state evaluations of the quality teacher-education programs, and require that minimum requirements for teaching degrees include quality coursework on optimal diagnostic assessment systems and the use of such data to drive instruction.

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The Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability is an independent, nonprofit, research organization dedicated to improving education in New York State by promoting accountability, stimulating innovation, and supporting school-choice efforts across the state.