I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, December 22, 2014

@NYGovCuomo Blames Teachers, Ignores His Funding Failures

Via the blogging machine that is Peter Greene, we find a new and disturbingly illiterate letter from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's State Operations Director, Jim Malatras. The Times-Union has the original on line; it's mostly a Jeopardy-style (form of a question) laundry list of Cuomo's reformy policies, with an occasional cheap shot thrown in every now and then at teachers and their unions for failing to solve every social and economic problem facing the Empire State.

Peter neatly deals with the stupidity that is the Cuomo education policy agenda -- more charter schools, test-based teacher evaluations, tenure, merit pay, mayoral control, etc. -- so I'll leave that alone for now. Instead, let's take a moment to bask in the self-righteousness that is the world of the Son of Mario:
Several weeks ago Governor Cuomo said that improving education is thwarted by the monopoly of the education bureaucracy. The education bureaucracy's mission is to sustain the bureaucracy and the status quo and therefore it is often the enemy of change. The result is the current system perpetuates the bureaucracy but, [sic*] fails our students in many ways. 
Tackling these questions with bold policy and leadership could truly transform public education and finally have it focus on the student as opposed to the bureaucracy. [emphasis mine]
You know, the "bureaucracy." Don't make him actually say it... (cough, cough, *NYSUT*, cough...)

You'll remember, of course, that the Son of Mario suffers the little children better than anyone else; just ask him if you doubt it. So when he sends out his hack to take on the education "bureaucracy" (cough, cough, *UFT*, sniff...), understand it has nothing to do with the petty, vindictive war he's waging against NYSUT because they refused to get in line and endorse him in the last election.

Oh, no, and how rude of you to suggest such a thing! The Son of Mario is pushing his reformy, evidence-free agenda because his "bold" style of leadership demands he do so! Except that the one thing that could actually help New York's students -- the most important issue facing the state's schools -- isn't even mentioned in Malatras's letter:
December 1, 2014
Lawsuits brought by students in New York’s small cities school districts and New Jersey’s rural districts challenging unfair funding are poised to advance in early 2015. The lawsuits raise the failure of Governors Andrew Cuomo and Christopher Christie to adequately fund school funding formulas in the Empire and Garden States, respectively.
Education Law Center is serving as co-counsel in both lawsuits.  Below are brief summaries of the cases and court schedules.
Maisto v. New York 
In this lawsuit, students in eight, high poverty, “small cities” school districts assert that their schools are deprived of the teachers, support staff, programs and services deemed “essential” to afford them a “meaningful high school education,” the standard for a “sound basic education” under the New York Constitution as previously established by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. 
The students are prepared to demonstrate that the lack of essential education resources is caused by large shortfalls in state school aid due to the Cuomo Administration’s refusal to fund the state’s Foundation Aid Formula. The Formula was enacted in 2007 to respond to the Court of Appeals ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. The NY Legislature put the Formula in place to ensure sufficient state funding to provide essential resources for all students to have the opportunity for a sound basic education.  
The students in the Maisto case attend school in Utica, Poughkeepsie, Jamestown, Mount Vernon, Kingston, Newburgh, Port Jervis and Niagara Falls. The trial is set to begin before Judge Kimberly O’Connor on January 21 in Albany. While the trial involves only eight school districts, the decision in the case could impact the State’s obligation to address the approximately $5 billion shortfall in Foundation Formula funding for students across the state.     
Visit the ELC website for more information and updates on the Maisto litigation. [emphasis mine]**
A very short history lesson is in order here:

In 1978, a group property-poor school boards filed Levittown v. Nyquist, a challenge to the New York State school funding system. While the plaintiffs’ claim was ultimately dismissed, Levittown did establish that NY State students have a right to a “sound basic education.” In his dissent, Justice Jacob Fuchsberg, wrote: “... (it is an) undisputed fact that the existing education aid formulae have an adverse effect, not only on pupils from impoverished families, but also on a large percentage of the nearly 750,000 minority students (Blacks, Hispanics, American Indian, Asian, and others).

By invoking a claim of disparate impact, Fuchsberg set the stage for Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. State of New York, the landmark case that became the basis for New York’s current funding system. CFE asserted in its complaint: “New York State was failing in its constitutional duty to provide the opportunity for a sound basic education to hundreds of thousands of its schoolchildren.

In his 2001 decision, presiding Justice Leland DeGrasse ordered the state to take the necessary measures that would ensure all public schools provide the opportunity for a “sound basic education” to their students. It took a few years, but eventually the state legislature enacted the State Education Budget and Reform Act of 2007-08.

The act set the groundwork for the Foundation Aid Formula, which was designed to take into account a district's student population characteristics and its ability to fund its education. As Bruce Baker*** notes:
The 2007 foundation aid formula was adopted by the state specifically to achieve compliance with the high court’s order in Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The state argued that this new formula was built on sound empirical analysis of the spending behavior of districts that achieved adequate outcomes on state assessments. The state argued that the foundation formula applied this evidence, coupled with additional evidence-based adjustments to address student needs and regional cost variation, in order to identify a specific target level of per pupil spending for each district statewide, which would provide comparable opportunities to achieve adequate educational outcomes. The state determined the share of that target funding to be raised through local tax revenues and estimated the amount to be paid by the state toward achieving each districts’ sound basic funding target.
Then, they simply failed to fund it. [emphasis mine]
Yes, that's right: after painstakingly putting together the formula, New York's political class said: "Yeah, uh... no." But it's not as if all of New York's districts have suffered equally: the wealthiest districts have spent much, even when they were supposed to be cutting their property taxes, while the poorest districts have had to struggle on far less than they were promised. This has made New York's State's school funding system, despite its relatively high amount of total spending, one of the most unfair education financing systems in the entire country.

And, as always in America, race plays a big part in this inequity:
Federal education officials have granted a year-old request from two upstate school districts to investigate whether New York's school aid system shortchanges districts with large minority populations. 
In a Nov. 25 letter, the U.S. Department of Education said its Office of Civil Rights will probe the state education department and Board of Regents and the state's funding of schools. 
But the agency decided not to include the executive and legislative branches, which actually decide on levels of school aid, as originally requested in a complaint last December by the Schenectady and Middletown districts. 
"It's not the lever I wanted, but it's the lever we have," Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said the decision not to review the roles of the Cuomo administration or Legislature. 
He said the agency decided it was limited to looking at the institutions that directly get federal education money. 
The federal education department declined to comment beyond confirming the investigation and the state department said it wouldn't comment on an ongoing probe. 
Spring said it took nearly a year and steady negotiations to get to this point because the investigation is novel and could have national consequences. 
"This is something that happens across the country to black school districts," Spring said of funding gaps between rich and poor districts. "Black communities in this country are really being starved and it's not OK for government to look the other way." [emphasis mine]
No, it's not -- especially when the New York State itself has set the standard for school funding, then has refused to follow its own law.

But where is the Son of Mario? Where is the man who said this?
I learned my most important lesson in my first year as Governor in the area of public education. I learned that everyone in public education has his or her own lobbyist. 
Superintendents have lobbyists.  
Principals have lobbyists.  
Teachers have lobbyists.  
School boards have lobbyists.  
Maintenance personnel have lobbyists.  
Bus drivers have lobbyists.  
The only group without a lobbyist? The students.  
Well, I learned my lesson. This year, I will take a second job — consider me the lobbyist for the students. I will wage a campaign to put students first, and to remind us that the purpose of public education is to help children grow, not to grow the public education bureaucracy. [emphasis mine]
Well, OK, then Guv: what's your stance on making your New York government follow its own laws? Where's that passion to "put students first" when it comes to school funding? What do you have to say about this critical and pressing issue?
Cuomo and state lawmakers have defended the way they allocate education funding. Cuomo's office did not respond to emailed request for comment about the federal investigation.
Wow, how "bold"...

Let's be very clear about this: Cuomo's reformy agenda is a distraction to keep New Yorkers from having a serious conversation about reforming school funding.

Only the willingly obtuse would ever think New York could fire its way to teaching greatness without providing the funding necessary to entice qualified people into the toughest school assignments.

Only those willing to ignore reality could think that reducing class size, which requires adequate funding, doesn't matter.

Only those with an ideological predilection for ineffective tax cuts would continue to put the needs of trust find babies over the impoverished, deserving, beautiful children of New York.

If Cuomo really wanted to help the at-risk children of his state, he could do something immediately that makes a real impact on school funding fairness. The Foundation Formula includes a provision that gives $500 per student to every district in state aid, regardless of whether the district is wealthy enough not to need it. According to Baker, this redirects about $1.25 billion in state aid away from poorer districts toward wealthier ones.

How about it, Governor Cuomo? You stand up all big and tough to the teachers unions; how about, just this once, taking a stand that might cost you some real political capital? Instead of sending your lackey out to waste our time on nonsense like test-based teacher evaluation, how about calling for an end to the $500 minimum in state aid and use the savings to put funds into the districts that need them the most?

How about going toe-to-toe with that part of the education bureaucracy, Governor? Let's see if you're "bold" enough to do that.

I dare you.

Can you guys believe it? We're underfunding our schools, but we've got the press talking about tenure! TENURE! Ha, ha, ha...

* As Peter points out: this is a horribly written letter. Yes, I'm a self-editing blogger and my writing often sucks, but this is an official document written by one of the governor's top aides -- and no one in his office knows how to use a comma? These are the people in change of setting the cut scores of the Regents Exams?

** Full disclosure: I have previously done research work for the ELC. What, you didn't read it? Well, go pour yourself some eggnog and curl up...

*** As always: Bruce is my adviser at Rutgers GSE.

1 comment:

NY Teacher said...

Thank you for shining such a bright and righteous light on the despicable hypocrite who resides in the Albany governor's mansion.
He spent two years DE-FUNDING New York's poorest school districts, produces bogus test scores and invalid APPR plans, and has the gall to pretend it is the fault of teachers.

The big question that this piece leaves me with is: Where in God's name are the mainstream media journalists on important and scandalous issues like this one?
Why have they forsaken the truth?