91 percent of districts endorse new RTTT bid
Charter school cap raised; teacher accountability boosted
On Board Online • June 7, 2010
By Brian M. Butry
With the charter school cap lifted and a new law tying teacher evaluations to student-performance data, state officials are feeling much better about New York's chances in the second round of the federal Race to the Top (RTTT) competition.
The State Education Department (SED) also announced that New York's application was improved because of a dramatic jump in local buy-in from school officials and teachers.
According to SED, 91 percent of public school districts (632 of 694) signed off on the memorandum of understanding (MOU) and 70 percent of school district submissions (445 of 632) include an MOU signed by the local teachers' union.
In the first round, only 61 percent of teacher union leaders and 66 percent of school districts signed letters of support.
The charter school law will institute a four-year period over which the 260 new charter schools could be created, raising the cap to 460 from 200. Passage, though, did not come without some strings attached. Among the changes, charters can no longer be run by for-profit entities and their finances will be audited by the state comptroller. They will also be required to accept more special-needs students and English language learners.
The State University of New York Board of Trustees remains an authorizer of charter schools along with the state Board of Regents.
The number of charters in New York City will be capped at 214; the city currently has 100 charters and no city-specific cap. In buildings in which public schools and charter schools share space, any improvement worth more than $5,000 to the charter school would also have to be made to the public school.
The charter school bill was also passed in the state Senate along with legislation that establishes a new teacher and principal evaluation system that makes student achievement data a substantial component of how educators are assessed and supported. The bill was essentially the same as what the Board of Regents requested (see Chancellor's Commentary, On Board, May 24). Both houses also approved legislation to fund a data system that will track student performance over time. Gov. Paterson signed all three measures into law.
New York is seeking $697 million in funding to advance the Board of Regents reform agenda. Of those funds, $477 million would be awarded directly to participating school districts and charter schools, while $220 million would be used to support new curriculum, standards, assessments, teacher preparation and professional development models as well as the statewide student data system.
SED spent months lobbying state lawmakers, local school officials and the state teachers' unions, but their efforts were nearly derailed once again by legislative inaction.
As lawmakers worked to hammer out a deal on charter schools behind closed doors in the days leading up to the June 1 RTTT deadline, SED was forced to delay sending local districts the state's MOU until May 26. They asked for the document to be returned two days later on May 28.
Despite the frantic process, state education officials seem pleased.
"In recent weeks, New York State's educational community has come together in an unprecedented show of support for the Regents education reforms detailed in the State's Race to the Top application," said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
New York, however, is not the only state to pass last-minute laws to improve its RTTT application.
Colorado, Louisiana and Oklahoma were among nine states that recently passed legislation revamping their teacher evaluation rules. And since the competition kicked off last year, at least 23 states have approved laws that better position them for a win, according to a Wall Street Journal story.
The Department of Education said 35 states and the District of Columbia applied for the second round. Minnesota, Idaho and West Virginia applied in the first round, but not the second. Texas and Alaska did not apply in either round.
In the first round of the Race to the Top, New York's application came up 34 points short leaving the state ranked 15th out of 16 finalists. Delaware, which won $100 million, and Tennessee, which won $500 million were the only winners in round one.
Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, has stated he will award the remaining $3.4 billion in RTTT funds to "10 to 15" states in the second round.
Finalists will be announced around July 26 and the winners will be chosen in September.
While the state has no guarantee of winning any funding, state Education Commissioner David Steiner still called the reforms passed "a major step forward for the children of New York State."
Gov. David Paterson and other state officials agree that New York will improve its standing this time around.
Paterson said he is confident the charter school and teacher evaluation laws will "greatly increase" New York's chances of winning and "help reform our schools and challenge an educational status quo that is failing too many children."
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch praised state leaders. "Thanks to the leadership of the Governor, Assembly Speaker Silver, and Senate Majority Conference Leader [John] Sampson, New York State has new laws to support educational excellence and ensure that we are able to fully execute the innovative, coherent reform agenda outlined in our Race to the Top application," she said.
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