NYSSBA End of Session Legislative Priorities - Advocacy Alert


May 22, 2014                                                                 

With a little less than a month remaining in the legislative session, school board advocates need to be communicating with their representatives.  Below is a list of legislative priorities for your use in talking to your legislators.  The list includes items opposed by NYSSBA members that are actively being pursued by either the legislature or the governor, as well as issues NYSSBA hopes to advance.

Oppose APPR Moratorium:  Maintain accountability and commitment to the Common Core Learning Standards, including student performance measures in educator evaluations.
Schools and districts have a lag period, built in to the State’s approved ESEA waiver, before there are any consequences related to student performance on common core aligned tests.  One of the adjustments made in the budget built in a similar lag for students. A comparable lag already exists in current law for teachers and principals. An educator must have ineffective ratings for 2 consecutive years before he or she becomes eligible for an employment consequence. The state will continue to tell schools, districts and students how they are performing. We believe it is important to tell teachers the same information so that they (like their students) can work to improve. In addition, school districts bargained in good faith to reach APPR agreements and will be held to the concessions they made. Those agreements should not be compromised by changing the terms at the state level.   NYSSBA opposes the enactment of any moratorium related to educator evaluations or the use of performance data in those evaluations.

Invest in public schools.
Proposals continue to be advanced that would create an Education Investment Tax Credit (“tuition tax credit”) , allowing some individuals to take a tax credit nearly equal to their donations to private schools or foundations supporting nonpublic schools. Such a proposal would divert needed revenue that would otherwise flow to the state in future fiscal years. Current proposals do not consider the income of the donor, or the quality of instruction in nonpublic schools. Other states have focused tuition tax credits on low income parents, or parents of special education students.  So far, our state hasn’t set any such limitations.  While it’s true that the bill would also allow donations to public schools, only those communities with the highest wealth will be positioned to take advantage of such a program, further exacerbating the disparities between rich and poor. Though NYSSBA would never support such a proposal, it is particularly offensive at a time when there is still a statewide Gap Elimination Adjustment, The state can ill afford to reduce revenue in such a fashion when it is systematically underfunding its public schools. NYSSBA opposes any proposal that would directly or indirectly provide financial support to nonpublic schools at the expense of our public schools.

Maintain SED oversight over school districts in human rights matters.
Legislation has been advanced that would alter both the Dignity for all Students Act (DASA) and the Human Rights Law to give the Division of Human Rights oversight authority over school districts. This change would create a new liability for school districts without affording students additional protections. In fact the limited scope of DHR could result in rulings that protect the rights of one group of students under human rights laws, while infringing on the educational and civil rights of others under other provisions, including the IDEA.  Rather than treat incidents as criminal complaints, school districts address the educational and social needs of both victim and perpetrator.  School administrators know the students involved and remain the best option for overseeing the wellbeing of all students in their care.  NYSSBA opposes any expansion of the authority of DHR or changes to DASA as proposed.

Support Special Act School districts and 853 schools.
The State Education Department has advanced a proposal to increase the rate for direct and non-direct costs for these schools and districts for the upcoming school year. This rate must be approved by the Division of the Budget or the SED recommendation does not take effect.  Special act districts play a crucial role in the education of our most vulnerable students.  Their potential demise, due to the state’s seeming inability to arrive at a functional and realistic method of setting rates for their services, would result in poor educational outcomes for students and increased costs for school districts.  NYSSBA strongly supports this rate increase.

Extend authority to use lever voting machines.
School districts are currently authorized to continue their use of lever voting machines for school district votes and elections. However that authority is set to expire at the end of the year. Not all localities are willing to share their new optical scan machines with their school districts at no cost; and some are not prepared to share at all. School districts do not have the resources to buy and maintain these expensive machines for their elections, especially under the constraints of the tax cap.   The high cost of new optical scanning machines and their related training, software and maintenance costs pose an unnecessary financial burden to schools valiantly trying to stay under their tax cap.  Failure to allow schools to continue using their lever voting machines would force many to return to paper ballots.  Thus far, the state has recognized this and granted schools an exemption from the law requiring the use of the optical scanning machines.  NYSSBA supports the swift passage and approval of legislation to extend this exemption.

Maintain local control of school districts.
Much publicized legislation has been advanced that would authorize the Commissioner of Education to remove the board of education in any district deemed to be failing academically or in financial distress (if the board is determined to be the key factor in causing the academic or financial deficiencies). This bill makes no provision for state intervention if any other party or circumstance is found to be the cause; nor does it provide a procedure for ending the state control and returning authority to the voters. NYSSBA opposes the open ended removal of duly elected boards of education.

Maintain board of education authority and autonomy over curriculum.
Under current law, curriculum is the responsibility of locally elected boards of education. Curriculum decisions are how community representatives translate a community’s aspirations for its children into action.  However each year, a host of legislative proposals are advanced that would add new state curriculum mandates. School districts have neither the instructional time nor the financial resources to add further unfunded state mandates to the curriculum.  NYSSBA opposes the enactment of any new statutory curriculum mandates.

Please take the time to contact your legislators to tell them the impact these proposals would have on your community.  Remember, on average, there are four registered voters behind every one of your students.  This week, communities across the state provided a vote of confidence in their school districts.  Tell your legislators that those voters expect their support as well. 
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