state of the state

Cuomo offers few new education plans for 2018, but says poor schools need more funding

PHOTO: Mike Groll- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2018 State of the State.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo scarcely mentioned education in a lengthy speech Wednesday laying out his policy agenda for the coming year — a marked contrast to previous years when his splashy or controversial education plans made headlines.

In his more than 90-minute State of the State address, Cuomo devoted just a few minutes to education, during which he mainly proposed expanding existing initiatives involving college scholarships, pre-kindergarten, and after-school programs. Unlike in the past when he promoted tougher teacher evaluations, the Democratic governor’s education latest agenda is generally in line with policies favored by progressive voters and teachers unions — factors that may help him as he runs for a third term as governor this fall and mulls a presidential run in 2020.

Two new education plans he’s pushing this year — increased access to school meals and protections for student-loan borrowers — had been previewed by his office ahead of the speech.

While he vowed to maintain a “historic investment” in the state’s schools, he also acknowledged that New York faces “a federal and economic challenge never experienced before” — including a projected $4.4 billion state budget deficit, a federal tax overhaul that targets high-tax states such as New York, and possible federal-funding cuts.

With an eye toward Washington, Cuomo promised to challenge the new tax law in court. And in his call for New York to continue to invest heavily in education — the state spends more per pupil than any other in the nation — he also suggested that poorer districts should get a larger share of that money, which advocates have long sought.

“We must address education funding inequities and dedicate more of our state’s school aid to poorer districts,” Cuomo said. “Trickle-down economics doesn’t work, nor does trickle-down education funding.”

Cuomo will follow up on his speech, which came with a 374-page policy book, with a spending plan that is due by Jan. 12. Then he must negotiate a final budget with state lawmakers, some of whom have already expressed concerns about raising taxes or increasing spending.

Spending restraint should be a top priority,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, in a statement Tuesday.

Here are the main education items in the governor’s proposal:

Fight student hunger: Cuomo put forward an anti-hunger plan to make sure students are well-fed and ready to learn.

The plan would ban “lunch shaming,” where some schools single out students who cannot pay for lunch, and would require schools where 70 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch to provide breakfast after the school day has begun. It also encourages the use of locally grown produce in school meals and would require all public colleges and universities to have food pantries or an arrangement with outside food banks.

Earlier this year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to provide free lunch to all public school students regardless of family income. The city also offers free in-classroom breakfast for all elementary school students.

Help students pay for college: Cuomo announced several new protections for student-loan borrowers. The proposal would put new restrictions on student-loan providers, forbid the suspension of professional licenses for those who default on their loans, and provide students with more information about paying for school each year.

The proposal comes after Cuomo scored a key legislative victory last year with passage of the “Excelsior” scholarship, a plan to provide free tuition at in-state colleges for middle-income families. In the second year of the program, students from a wider range of families will be eligible for the scholarships, which Cuomo said will cost $118 million.

Train teachers in computer science: A new $6 million grant program would pay for teacher training in computer science and engineering. Mayor de Blasio’s plan for every New York City student to learn the basics of computer science will require about 5,000 trained teachers, city officials have estimated.

Expand existing initiatives: The bulk of Cuomo’s 16 education-specific plans are expansions of existings efforts. Many of them — including pre-K, after-school programs, and student mental-health services — overlap with initiatives already underway in New York City.

  • Pre-K: $15 million to grow the state’s prekindergarten offerings, which Cuomo launched in 2013 and has expanded each year. That is close to the $20 million that the state Board of Regents requested for preschool seats this year. Cuomo’s plan would add pre-K seats for both 4- and 3-year-olds — which could be good news for Mayor de Blasio, who is seeking state funding for his own “3-K” program.
  • After-school programs: $10 million to fund a second round of competitive grants to fund after-school programs in high-poverty areas, which included the Bronx last year. This round, a portion of the grants will be reserved for districts with high levels of student homeless or gang activity.
  • “Early college” high schools: $9 million to create 15 additional high schools where students can earn some college credit or associate’s degrees.
  • “Master teachers”: $1 million to give select teachers in high-poverty districts an annual stipend along with extra training, which Cuomo says will help draw effective teachers to high-needs schools.

Signed and sealed

Federal officials deny New York testing waivers but sign off on its plan for judging schools

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa

New York cannot create special testing rules for students with disabilities or those still learning English, the U.S. education department said Tuesday.

The decision to deny New York the testing waivers it had sought came on the same day that the department signed off on the state’s plan to evaluate and support schools under the new federal education law. The plan, required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, was the product of more than a year of writing and revision by state officials and over a dozen public hearings.

The federal education department approved most of New York’s vision which aims to move beyond test scores when evaluating schools and places new emphasis on whether schools have the resources they need though they required some changes, which the department first proposed in feedback last month.

One of the revisions affects the way schools are rated when many students refuse to take the state exams. Meanwhile, the federal reviewers did not appear to require changes that could have lowered the state’s graduation rate, which some experts had said was possible under the new law.

Here’s what you need to know about the federal government’s feedback to New York’s plan:

1.) Two testing waivers were rejected

At the same time that New York submitted its ESSA plan, it also requested three testing-related waivers — two of which federal officials shot down on Tuesday.

One of the rejected waivers would have allowed students with significant cognitive disabilities to take tests below their grade level, which New York officials said would have resulted in more accurate measures of their progress. However, special-education advocates and the New York City education department had raised alarms about that request, saying it could lower standards for those students and potentially violate federal law. In denying the request, the U.S. education department appeared to validate those concerns.

The other denied waiver had asked that schools not be held accountable for the English test scores of newly arrived immigrants until after those students had been in the U.S. for three years. Without that exemption, school evaluations will factor in the English scores of students who are still learning that language after their second year in the country.

New York did, however, receive approval for one waiver to allow middle-school students to skip the state’s annual math or science exams if they instead sit for the Regents exams in those subjects, which are required to earn a typical high-school diploma.

2.) A change for schools with high opt-out rates

New York must treat students who boycott state tests as having failed them when evaluating schools’ performance though state officials don’t expect that to trigger interventions for high-performing schools with high opt-out rates.

In its ESSA plan, New York officials had wanted to make sure that schools were not penalized if a large number of students sit out the state exams — as 19 percent of students across the state did last year. To that end, they created two accountability measures — one that counted boycotted exams against a school’s passing rate and another that did not — and allowed schools to use the higher of the two ratings.

But the U.S. education department blocked that methodology, instead requiring the state to treat boycotted exams as the equivalent of failed tests when judging their academic performance. (They are still allowed to use the other metric to evaluate schools, just not under strict federal guidelines for what count as academic measures.)

State education department officials said Wednesday that the changes will like result in slightly lower ratings for schools with high opt-out rates. However, they said they do not expect those schools to face serious consequences as long as they perform well on other metrics.

Lisa Rudley, a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, which helped organize the opt-out movement in New York, said she expects the state to protect schools where many students boycott the exams.

Otherwise, she predicted, “There’s going to be outrage.”

3.) New York’s graduation rate is in the clear for now

Federal reviewers could have forced the state to lower its graduation rate, but they appear to have decided against that drastic step.

ESSA requires states to include only diplomas earned by a “preponderance” of students when calculating their graduation rates. Several experts thought New York’s “local diploma,” a less rigorous diploma awarded to only about four percent of students, did not meet that requirement.

If federal officials had agreed, the state could have been forced to recalculate its graduation rate and possibly eliminate some newly created options that allow more students to graduate with local diplomas. However, the officials appear to have let New York’s graduation rate stand with the local diploma in place.

on the market

Albany to Boston? New York education official Angelica Infante-Green in the running to lead Massachusetts schools

PHOTO: Chiefs for Change
Angelica Infante-Green is a finalist to run schools in Massachusetts.

One of New York state’s top education officials is a finalist to take over the leaderless state education department in Massachusetts.

Angelica Infante-Green is one of three finalists to succeed Mitchell Chester, the Massachusetts education commissioner who died unexpectedly in June 2017, according to the Boston Herald.

Infante-Green is a deputy commissioner overseeing instruction in New York’s public schools, where she has recently spearheaded the state’s efforts integrate schools by race and class. Before arriving in Albany in 2013, she oversaw New York City’s efforts to serve to English language learners. In that position, she was responsible for expanding the city’s bilingual and dual-language programs and making sure that immigrant families landed in the best schools for their children.

Infante-Green is the daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, a graduate of New York City schools, and a Teach For America alumna.

When she was teaching, Infante-Green felt “a little frustration in the classroom because there were policies that were being made without really knowing what was happening in the classroom,” she said in a video interview with Chiefs for Change, a national coalition of state and district education leaders that advocates for policy changes to help students. “So I decided that I was going to bring that drive to create change at a different level.”

Infante-Green is part of Chiefs for Change’s “Future Chiefs” program, which aims to cultivate a diverse pipeline of education leaders. She is also is a public school parent of two children; her son attends the first-ever dual-language program for students with autism, which she helped launch.

In an interview with Education Post last year, Infante-Green reflected on how her experiences as a parent, educator, and administrator inform her outlook on education policy.

“I’ve always had a passion for equity because of my own experience. I know firsthand what it’s like to be in a school where there isn’t much support and expectations are low,” Infante Green said in the interview. “If I didn’t have the chance to change schools, I don’t know how I would have ended up. So I work to make sure all kids have the opportunity to thrive.”

Massachusetts would present different challenges for Infante-Green. Schools there are considered the highest-performing in the country, and unlike in New York, the state runs some struggling districts directly.

The other candidates for the Massachusetts job, according to the Boston Herald, are Jeffrey Riley, who leads the state-run Lawrence Public Schools in central Massachusetts; and Penny Schwinn, chief deputy commissioner of academics at the Texas Education Agency. They were selected from 18 applicants and will undergo interviews in Boston next week.

Clarification (Jan. 17, 2018): This story has been updated to clarify the activities of Chiefs for Change, as well as to include Infante-Green’s participation in the Future Chiefs program.