state of the state

Cuomo proposes two new Race to the Top-style grants for NY

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Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed two new competitive education grants during his State of the State address today.

Two more Races to the Top could be coming to New York — this time courtesy of Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In his first State of the State speech today, Cuomo proposed creating two new competitive grant funds for state school districts, worth $250 million each.

The first grant would reward districts that boost students’ academic performance. The second would go to districts that find ways to cut costs that don’t affect the classroom.

It’s not yet clear if the addition of the grant competitions would alter the state’s current formula-based education model. But the governor was critical of the model, which he said gives districts no incentives to improve.

“Competition works,” Cuomo said, pointing to the state legislature’s passage of a charter cap lift bill as part of its (eventually successful) bid to win Race to the Top funds.

Cuomo’s plan would follow the lead of the federal government, which the governor said has “actually been more innovative in this area.” The U.S. Department of Education still doles out most of its money to states according to formulas, but under President Barack Obama has also begun granting billions of dollars based on the outcomes of competitions.

The state’s current formula — set after a landmark court win by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity in 2007 — doles out funds to school districts based on the number of students each serves. The formula gives districts more money for serving impoverished students, those learning English, and other high-needs students.

Geri Palast, executive director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said that the governor should tread carefully in building an incentive-based funding model.  “I think the notion of moving away from a formula is very dangerous, actually,” she said.

Heavily impoverished school districts — which tend to rely more on state funds than districts with wealthy tax bases — have already taken disproportionate hits in their funding because of state cuts, Palast said. She argued that changes to the state funding formula must be made with an eye toward ensuring an equal starting line for needy students.

“I’m not opposed to incentives; I think incentives are great,” she said. “But they have to be incentives on top of provisions in the law that provide for kids’ basic needs.”

Cuomo will not be the first governor to call for tying education funding to accountability measures. When former Governor Eliot Spitzer entered office, he promised to tie a pool of funds won through the CFE lawsuit to districts’ efforts to introduce a handful of innovations such as reducing class size and lengthening the school day.

But the state’s accountability program, known as Contracts for Excellence, failed to accomplish several of its goals. Class size in New York City, for example, has increased, and critics continue to contend that the city has used the money it received through the settlement not towards reducing class size, but rather to partially backfill money lost through system-wide budget cuts.

Rise & Shine

While you were waking up, the U.S. Senate took a big step toward confirming Betsy DeVos as education secretary

Betsy DeVos’s confirmation as education secretary is all but assured after an unusual and contentious early-morning vote by the U.S. Senate.

The Senate convened at 6:30 a.m. Friday to “invoke cloture” on DeVos’s embattled nomination, a move meant to end a debate that has grown unusually pitched both within the lawmaking body and in the wider public.

They voted 52-48 to advance her nomination, teeing up a final confirmation vote by the end of the day Monday.

Two Republican senators who said earlier this week that they would not vote to confirm DeVos joined their colleagues in voting to allow a final vote on Monday. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska cited DeVos’s lack of experience in public education and the knowledge gaps she displayed during her confirmation hearing last month when announcing their decisions and each said feedback from constituents had informed their decisions.

Americans across the country have been flooding their senators with phone calls, faxes, and in-person visits to share opposition to DeVos, a Michigan philanthropist who has been a leading advocate for school vouchers but who has never worked in public education.

They are likely to keep up the pressure over the weekend and through the final vote, which could be decided by a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence.

Two senators commented on the debate after the vote. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who has been a leading cheerleader for DeVos, said he “couldn’t understand” criticism of programs that let families choose their schools.

But Democrat Patty Murray of Washington repeated the many critiques of DeVos that she has heard from constituents. She also said she was “extremely disappointed” in the confirmation process, including the early-morning debate-ending vote.

“Right from the start it was very clear that Republicans intended to jam this nomination through … Corners were cut, precedents were ignored, debate was cut off, and reasonable requests and questions were blocked,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Week In Review

Week In Review: A new board takes on ‘awesome responsibility’ as Detroit school lawsuits advance

PHOTO: Erin Einhorn
The new Detroit school board took the oath and took on the 'awesome responsibility' of Detroit's children

It’s been a busy week for local education news with a settlement in one Detroit schools lawsuit, a combative new filing in another, a push by a lawmaker to overhaul school closings, a new ranking of state high schools, and the swearing in of the first empowered school board in Detroit has 2009.

“And with that, you are imbued with the awesome responsibility of the children of the city of Detroit.”

—    Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens, after administering the oath to the seven new members of the new Detroit school board

Read on for details on these stories plus the latest on the sparring over Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos. Here’s the headlines:

 

The board

The first meeting of the new Detroit school board had a celebratory air to it, with little of the raucous heckling that was common during school meetings in the emergency manager era. The board, which put in “significant time and effort” preparing to take office, is focused on building trust with Detroiters. But the meeting was not without controversy.

One of the board’s first acts was to settle a lawsuit that was filed by teachers last year over the conditions of school buildings. The settlement calls for the creation of a five-person board that will oversee school repairs.

The lawyers behind another Detroit schools lawsuit, meanwhile, filed a motion in federal court blasting Gov. Rick Snyder for evading responsibility for the condition of Detroit schools. That suit alleges that deplorable conditions in Detroit schools have compromised childrens’ constitutional right to literacy — a notion Snyder has rejected.

 

In Lansing

On DeVos

In other news