Since taking office in 2011, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a number of actions that have sparked the ire of a large portion of his constituency, namely those who support public education.
Mr. Cuomo signed into law a property tax cap that has stripped district boards of education of the right to ask residents for the funding they feel is required and have that matter decided upon by a majority vote in their community.
The financial burden placed on school districts due to the tax cap has led to the elimination of many of the innovative education programs that distinguished New York state schools from others in the nation and has made it fiscally impossible for schools to develop new programs to meet children’s needs.
Mr. Cuomo has also endorsed a teacher evaluation system linked to student performance on tests developed in conjunction with a common core curriculum that education experts have found to be seriously flawed - a system known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). Portions of this evaluation system have since been suspended. As a result of challenges to this evaluation system in the courts, many scores given to teachers using this system have been expunged.
Now, in an attempt to curry favor with supporters of public education, Governor Cuomo has released a budget proposal that increases state education spending by $1 billion - an amount Cuomo is advertising as an historic increase.
However, those who monitor school budget processes closely are taking issue with Mr. Cuomo’s assertion and are expressing great concerns about the effect the Governor’s state budget could have on public schools in New York, not only in terms of funding, but in terms of the impact policies in the budget language will have on the spread of charter schools throughout the state.
One organization that has been highly critical of the Governor’s budget proposal is The Alliance for Quality Education (AQE). The AQE is a coalition of parents, school teachers and administrators and concerned citizens that works to ensure that public education is equitable throughout New York state.
Recently AQE Legislative Director, Jasmine Gripper, publicly remarked that the Governor’s budget proposal would, “perpetuate systemic racism and economic injustice in school funding.” “By his [Cuomo’s] own accounting,” Gripper said, “the funding increase is for ‘inflation,’ which means he is doing nothing about the $10,000 spending difference between rich and poor students.”
The AQE, along with many Democrats in the New York State Assembly had sought more than $2 billion in education spending this year in order to satisfy a 2006 court ruling against New York State government brought by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. A $2 billion education spending increase was also recommended by the New York State Board of Regents.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity brought a lawsuit against New York State government back in 1993 in order to seek adequate funding and a quality education for all children. In response to losing the lawsuit, New York State adopted a Foundation Aid formula and planned to add $5.5 billion in education aid over 4 years to all state schools.
The state initially allocated $2.3 billion. However, the state froze funding for the Foundation Aid formula during the fiscal crisis, and cut $2.7 billion from the state aid budget at the same time, thereby reversing any gains in aid it had put forward previously.
Executive Director of the Network for Public Education Action (NPE Action), Carol Burris, has also expressed her concerns that Governor Cuomo’s budget falls short of needed education funding. Mrs. Burris has also criticized the Governor for provisions within his budget proposal that would support the expansion of charter schools.
On the NPE Action’s website, Burris issued a statement against plans by the Governor in his budget that would eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York City while forcing city schools to give additional space in their own school buildings to charter schools.
In the same statement, Burris also explained that, “Cuomo’s budget would decrease the current reimbursement to school districts for supplemental charter tuition in 2018-19, and give reimbursement to fewer districts.” According to Burris, this will result in a $22 million reduction in aid to school districts across the state.
Burris cites somewhat staggering data as to the per pupil charter school tuition rates that some New York school districts are required to pay when a student in their district attends a charter school.
A few examples close to Levittown include:
- Hempstead School District: $18,202
- Lawrence School District: $23,002
- Rockville Centre School District: $19,267
These districts, and many others where charter schools exist are also liable for the transportation costs for students to and from charter schools.
In a speech she gave in 2015, new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos praised the efforts of politicians who supported school choice and voucher programs, specifically naming two Republicans, former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, as well as two Democrats, the Senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker, and New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo.
Governor Cuomo’s political interests have also been funded in part by contributions made by Mrs. DeVos and her family, most notably, the Governor’s campaign to provide a tax credit to those districts that did not use a 60% supermajority vote to exceed the property tax cap.
It is true that education spending is an annual battle in our state legislature and, often times, additional funding is granted that exceeds the plan initially put forth by the Governor. However, the Governor’s proposals have left many advocates for public education seriously concerned about the potential deficiency in funding for public education. Also concerning are policies presented by the Governor that will further support the spread of private education at the expense of schools attended by the vast majority of children in the state.
In the end, what concerns many who support public education is not just what Governor Cuomo’s budget proposals would do to hurt public education, but, moreover, what those proposals say about the Governor’s values regarding public education and his plans to reform the institution in the coming years.
It is certainly the opinion of many of the leaders of groups who support public education, that the Governor has done a great deal of damage already, and, with the help of supporters in the state congress, is on course to do even more.
In a press release issued by the New York State Allies for Public Education, Long Island Long Island Opt Out founder, Jeanette Deutermann, said, “The DeVos confirmation turns the focus of New York State public school advocates back to New York state and the leadership that is aligned with the DeVos agenda.” “Both Governor Cuomo and [New York State] Senator [John] Flanagan, have paved the way for the dismantling of our public schools through support of APPR and high stakes testing mandates, Common Core curriculum, data tracking, and the defunding of our public schools.” “Clearly Cuomo and Flanagan's support of privatization efforts speaks more to their campaign funding rather than the best interests of our children.”