Public Ed in NY — What a Difference a Year Makes

Key progress in Governor Spitzer’s education agenda took place yesterday:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer, joined by Education Commissioner Richard Mills, put the finishing touches Monday on one of his hallmark education plans, the statewide Contracts for Excellence. 

At a ceremony in Buffalo, Spitzer announced the signing of the contracts with 55 school districts representing more than 1 million K-12 students. Some of the largest of the state’s 700 districts, including New York City and Buffalo, have signed on…  The districts will share an extra $428 million in state aid, beyond the increases all schools received this year. In exchange for the additional money, districts agreed to choose from a group of strategies to increase achievement.

The idea, Spitzer said, is to provide more money to school systems that need it, but with guidance and a higher level of accountability to ensure the money isn’t wasted.

The options schools can use to improve achievement include boosting pre-kindergarten programs, shrinking class sizes and providing more extensive teacher training. Schools also must set up a public hearing process to help monitor their progress, with accommodations for airing complaints.

 This was a centerpiece to Governor Spitzer’s promise delivered to upgrade significantly state support for public education. Lest this achievement be taken for granted, recall his predecessor’s last budget proposal:

Pataki’s proposal includes a 1.6 percent, or $259 million increase in basic school aid for the 2006-07 school year. It would also give $400 tax rebates to homeowners in districts that keep spending below 4 percent or 120 percent of inflation, whichever is lower. And he proposed a $500 tax credit for families in under-performing school districts to send children to private schools or tutors.

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over this, even from the school boards:

“I must conclude that our governor’s agenda is both hostile to and destructive of public education in New York,” Tim Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said in prepared testimony. “It shirks the state’s responsibility and places an unfair burden on localities, especially those that lack resources.”

This is the real work being done — a refreshing change from the sidehows of the past six months.


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