tallon talents

Changing education is like ‘moving a battleship on the ocean’: Departing NY Regent reflects on his tenure

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Regent James Tallon after a recent Board of Regents meeting.

Regent James Tallon will not seek another term on New York state’s education policymaking body, he told Chalkbeat this week, opening up an empty spot on the board and continuing the transformation of the 17-member group.

“I have told the Senate and Assembly that I don’t intend to seek a fourth term on the board,” Tallon said. “I’ve really enjoyed my 15 years of service and this is largely a personal decision.”

Tallon, a former state assemblyman who chaired the Regents’ budget committee, led discussions about ensuring all schools, particularly high-needs schools, have the resources necessary to improve. Though budgetary power rests with the legislature, Tallon is well-versed in school funding and has been a strong advocate for the Regents’ agenda, said Peter Goodman, who attends the Regents meetings and writes a blog about New York state education policy.

That loss is particularly important this year, since Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed significant and controversial changes to the way the state funds schools, drawing ire from several education advocacy groups, he said.

With Tallon’s term finishing at the end of March, the state legislature will appoint a new member.

“He’s not replaceable,” Goodman said. “He knows all the ins and outs of the budget and he’s very, very well regarded by the legislature.”

Chancellor Betty Rosa said Tallon has made “vast and substantial contributions” to the board.

“His knowledge, decorum and counsel have proven invaluable to the Board time and time again,” Rosa said.

Tallon’s departure comes in the aftermath of other major transitions on the board. The Regents gained seven new members in the last two years and elected a new chancellor in March — ushering in a shift in the dynamics and policy direction of the board. It has, in general, moved away from the learning standards and teacher evaluation system ushered in under Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Those changes were partially responsible for an opt-out movement that spread to one in five New York families.

Tallon said the most important lesson he learned during his time on the board is that big changes take time.

“The controversies that sprang up about all those things, I think, in many respects were influenced by the speed with which we attacked all those issues,” Tallon said. “It is an enormously complicated space and making changes is, to some extent, moving a battleship on the ocean.”

Tisch voiced a similar sentiment when she stepped down last year. Tallon said he sees promise in the way the board is now looking to implement a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which allows the state to redesign how it measures and intervenes in schools.

The state’s education commissioner praised Tallon’s work and service to the Board of Regents.

“It is hard to imagine a more thoughtful, intelligent and forceful advocate for New York’s students, parents and educators than Regent Jim Tallon,” said State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a statement. “I thank him for his decades of service to the people of New York. He will be sorely missed by all of us at the Education Department and the Board of Regents.”

Indiana's 2018 legislative session

Indiana lawmakers OK up to $100 million to address funding shortage for schools

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Indiana lawmakers agreed to dip into reserves to make up a shortfall to get public schools the money they were promised — and they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to approve the final plan in House Bill 1001. The bill now heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk.

Rep. Tim Brown, a co-author of the bill and chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said it was necessary to take the uncommon step and have the state to use reserve funds to make up the gap, but in the next budget year making up that difference will be a priority. Brown said he, other lawmakers, and the Legislative Services Agency will work to make sure projections are more accurate going forward.

“Do procedures need to be changed?” Brown said. “We’re going to be asking those questions” during the next budget cycle.

Estimates on the size of the shortfall have ranged widely this year, beginning around $9 million and growing as new information and student counts came in. Projections from the Legislative Services Agency reported by the Indianapolis Star had the gap at $22 million this year and almost $60 million next year.

The final bill requires the state to transfer money from reserves if public school enrollment is higher than expected, as well as to make up any shortages for students with disabilities or students pursuing career and technical education. The state budget director would have to sign off first. Transfers from reserves are already allowed if more voucher students enroll in private schools than projected, or if state revenue is less than expected.

The budget shortfall, discovered late last year, resulted from miscalculations in how many students were expected to attend public schools over the next two years. Lawmakers proposed two bills to address the shortfall, and the House made it its highest legislative priority. The compromise bill would set aside up to $25 million for this year and up to $75 million next year. The money would be transferred from reserve funds to the state general fund and then distributed to districts.

The bill also takes into account two other programs that lawmakers think could be contributing to underestimated public school enrollment: virtual education programs and kids who repeat kindergarten.

District-based virtual education programs would be required to report to the state by October of each year on virtual program enrollment, total district enrollment, what grades the virtual students are in, where they live, and how much of their day is spent in a virtual learning program. These programs, unlike virtual charter schools, are not separate schools, so it can be hard for state officials and the public to know they even exist.

The report will help lawmakers understand how the programs are growing and how much they might cost, but it won’t include information about whether students in the programs are learning or graduating. Virtual charter schools in the state have typically posted poor academic results, and Holcomb has called for more information and action, though legislative efforts have failed.

Finally, the bill changes how kindergarteners are counted for state funding. The state changed the cut-off age for kindergarten to 5 years old by Aug. 1 — if students are younger than that, they can still enroll, but the district won’t receive state dollars for them. Some districts were allowing 4-year-olds to enroll in kindergarten early, Sen. Ryan Mishler said earlier this month. Then those same students would enroll in kindergarten again the next year.

Despite increases passed last year to boost the total education budget, many school leaders have said they struggle to pay salaries and maintain buildings, which is why funding shortfalls — even small ones — matter. This year’s unexpected shortfall was particularly problematic because districts had already made plans based on the state budget.

Find all of Chalkbeat’s 2018 legislative coverage here.

let the games begin

Assembly pushes for $1.5 billion boost to education spending

PHOTO: Photo by Jonathan Fickies for UFT
UFT President Michael Mulgrew interviews New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

In a tight budget year, New York State’s Democratic-led Assembly wants to increase education spending by $1.5 billion, officials announced late Monday night.

The proposed increase  which would bring total education spending to $27.1 billion  is significantly more than the governor’s suggested $769 million increase. Still, the amount is a slightly smaller boost than the Assembly backed last year, which is likely a reflection of a difficult fiscal situation faced by the state this year.

State officials are fighting against a budget deficit, a federal tax plan that could harm New York, and the threat of further federal cuts. The potential lack of funding could be the only sticking point in an otherwise quiet budget year for education matters.

As part of its education agenda, the Assembly backed a number of programs it has in the past. The plan supports the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which is designed to help boys and young men of color reach their potential, and “community schools,” which act as service hubs that provide healthcare and afterschool programs.

The release of this plan kicks off the final stretch of the state’s budget process. The governor has already outlined his proposals and the Senate will likely follow soon, setting up the state’s annual last-minute haggling.

The budget is due by April 1, but could always be resolved later similar to last year.