Committee leadership changes hands
On Board Online • January 14, 2019
By Cathy Woodruff
New York lawmakers returned to Albany this month with new leaders at the helm of the Senate and Assembly education committees.
In the Assembly, Bronx Democrat Michael Benedetto, a special education teacher in New York City schools for more than 30 years, was tapped by Speaker Carl Heastie, also of the Bronx, to succeed longtime Education Committee Chair Catherine Nolan of Queens. Nolan, the committee chair since 2006, was named deputy speaker.
In the Senate, incoming Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester County chose Shelley Mayer, a Yonkers Democrat, as Education Committee chair. She succeeds Long Island Republican Carl Marcellino, who was defeated in November.
The political landscape is a new one, with Democrats in charge of both houses of the state Legislature as well as the governor's office. As the legislative session unfolds, the new political power dynamics are likely to play out on two prominent issues: foundation aid and evaluations of teachers and principals.
When it was implemented in 2007, the new foundation aid formula was envisioned by lawmakers as a mechanism to ensure that every district had sufficient resources to provide a quality education for all students, regardless of local wealth, other local resources or student needs.
The foundation aid formula was supposed to be phased in over four years, but as the state coped with the financial fallout from an economic recession, that did not happen. As a result, annual aid payments for some individual districts, particularly those with high needs, have fallen far below level they would have reached if the formula had been allowed to run as it was designed.
How will legislative leaders and the new education chairs approach foundation aid? Early signals suggest there will be philosophical gaps to bridge with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The governor has challenged the idea that some school districts are owed money because the foundation aid formula faltered. He has characterized debates over the foundation aid formula and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit that inspired it as "ghosts of the past and distractions from the present."
Cuomo has sought to shift focus to the distribution of resources within districts, asserting that individual high-need schools are being shortchanged. "The focus has to be on the local distribution of money," he said.
But Mayer has called the formula "a top priority" and said it should be "modernized" to account for changing demographics, including growth in the number of students living in poverty and those who are English language learners.
Benedetto also has expressed openness to foundation aid reforms. "Does foundation aid maybe need reform and to be looked at? OK, we can look at a lot of different things, but we want money to go to schools so kids can be educated in the fullest and fairest way," he told Politico.
Teacher and principal evaluations
Reforms to New York's Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) law are on almost everyone's radar this year.
As the State Education Department and the Regents have been gathering feedback in anticipation of making recommendations for a new APPR law, legislators are promising action to reform APPR.
Last year, legislation pushed by New York State United Teachers to disconnect teacher evaluations from grades 3-8 state math and English language arts test results failed to pass in the Republican-led Senate.
While some form of reform is anticipated, it is unclear whether lawmakers will pursue a bill similar to last year's or favor a more comprehensive revision to APPR.
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