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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Shorter @NYGovCuomo: "Go Along With My Reformy Nonsense, Ignore My Funding Failures!"

I finally sat through New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's combination budget/State Of The State speech from this past week. There were a few huge groaners that need to be debunked, especially the lie -- yes, I said it -- that 32 percent of New York's prospective teachers failed a "bar exam."

But before I get to any of that, let's get right to the heart of the matter:

Governor Cuomo proposed a deal that is disturbingly close to an act of extortion. If everyone goes along with his education agenda, he'll add some more state aid for New York's schools. What's his program?

- An expansion of test-based teacher evaluations, even though everyone who knows anything about this topic says it is fraught with danger and will not work.

- An expansion of charter schools, even though everyone who looks at the charter sector honestly knows the gains they lay claim to are highly suspect.

- "Anti-creaming" charter school legislation, even though everyone knows charter schools have calcified patterns of segregation that will almost certainly be impossible to break.

- Merit pay, even though everyone who has studied it knows it has never worked before and certainly will not work now.

- The destruction of tenure, even though everyone who bothers to look at the empirical evidence comes to the conclusion that tenure it is certainly not an impediment to student learning, and is actually a benefit to the taxpayers and students that keeps our schools from becoming patronage mills.

- "Turnaround" plans for "failing" schools, even though everyone who knows the history of the school closure model knows it doesn't work.

- Mayoral control of schools, even though everyone who knows anything about New York City's schools understands that pinning hopes on mayoral control is a joke.

"Go along with all my unsupported, invalid malarky," barks the governor, "and I'll pitch in some more dough for the schools!" How much, exactly, Governor?

The original budget, according to Cuomo, called for an increase of $377 million. But if, and only if, New York goes along with this reformy nonsense, Cuomo will raise state aid by $1.1 billion. Which might sound great at first, until you realize one thing:

Cuomo's proposed $1.1 billion increase in state aid is nothing compared to the $5.9 billion New York State is behind on its own funding formula!

Let's have the good folks at the Alliance for Quality Education explain why Cuomo's proposal is a sick joke:
“The findings are clear and shocking. Governor Cuomo has failed to provide the leadership to uphold the state’s constitutional responsibility to provide every student with a sound basic public education. The state has a $6.2 billion surplus heading into 2015 there is no excuse to continue to make our students lose out,” said Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education
Currently, the state is behind $4.9 billion in Foundation Aid and $1 billion in Gap Elimination Adjustment (the GEA is the result of cuts made in 2010 and 2011).  Multiple court cases are now being brought against the state for its failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation to students, including the Small Cities Case for which David Sciarra, Executive Director of the Education Law Center is now serving as co-counsel. 
“This report demonstrates why students and parents from small cities across the state are suing Governor Cuomo and the State of New York for violating students’ constitutional rights,” said Sciarra. “We are prepared to demonstrate at the trial in December the educational harm being caused by the state’s continuing failure to deliver adequate funding to high needs schools.” [emphasis mine]
That would be the Maisto case, brought by many of New York's small cities against the state. These cities' schools have been grossly underfunded to the point that New York's poorest districts are suffering a funding gap of historic proportions.

As I wrote previously: New York has gone through a painstaking, decades-long process to bring school funding equity to the state. Panels of experts carefully constructed a formula the state itself said was necessary to provide New York's students with a "sound basic education."

The New York Legislature passed the law that determined how the state and local governments would divide the costs of adequately funding schools, taking into account both the characteristics of the students and the ability of the local governments to raise the necessary revenues. The state carefully worked out the system that would deliver enough money where it was needed most.

And then, as Bruce Baker puts it: "...they simply failed to fund it."

Now Cuomo comes along and offers a small fraction of what the state itself said is needed to properly educate New York's children. He pats himself on the back for his supposed bravery in taking on the "education bureaucracy," all the while blithely ignoring his duty to the most deserving children in his state.

Andrew Cuomo should not, in good conscience, demand that teachers step up and solve New York's terrible problems with inequality when he can't even muster up the political courage to give schools what the state itself says they need to adequately educate their students.

For Cuomo to hold hostage funds that the state itself says are necessary for New York's schools to properly do their job is cynical beyond belief. How craven must this man be that he can't even look the political leadership of New York in the face, following a decisive victory in the last election, and demand they do what the state itself says must be done for its students?

I am quickly finding Andrew Cuomo to be the most exasperating politician in America. He can be so correct on things like equal pay for equal work and universal preschool and several other issues. But he is massively wrong on education -- likely because he has adopted a pro-corporate neo-liberalism that his father wisely (if not entirely) resisted.

If Andrew Cuomo can't or won't do his job, he'd best not wag his finger at the many hardworking teachers of New York, who -- despite the failure of their governor -- serve the state's children far better than the cynics in Albany ever could.

On education, two peas in a pod.

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