Lobby Day – School Aid, CCLS, DASA, Special Education

On February 26, the SAANYS Government Relations Committee (GRC) was joined by the NYS Federation of School Administrators representing the New York City, Buffalo and Yonkers city school districts for a Lobby Day. During the morning, three teams visited 15 legislators and Governor Cuomo’s Deputy Secretary for Education, Ian Rosenblum. During the afternoon the entire delegation met with Commissioner King, and Deputy Commissioners Ken Slentz and Ken Wagner where discussion principally evolved around the State Education Department’s ESEA Waiver Application, English Language Learner Blue Print, and adjustment options to Common Core Learning Standards.

Meetings in the Legislative Office Building and State Capitol focused on four issues:

State School Aid for 2014 – Years of state aid cuts, the enactment of the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) and frozen Foundation Aid, coupled with the property tax cap have resulted in many school districts in fiscal stress, districts that are educationally insolvent, and districts planning for how they will be out of compliance with mandates in a manner that does the least harm to students. More than 30,000 educators have been laid-off over the past five years – proportionately more administrators than teachers – and the governor’s proposed state aid increase of 3.8 percent ($807 million) will result in more cuts of personnel and programs. According to calculations completed by the Education Conference Board (ECB) $1.5 billion is needed to maintain the status quo. We strongly recommended an increase of $1.9 billion.   Our delegation described the cuts that have already been implemented in their respective districts, their state aid increase (or decrease) based of the proposed Executive Budget, and the additional cuts that would accrue if the governor’s proposed budget is enacted. The teams recommended that other proposed programs – full-day prekindergarten, after school Programs, P-TECH, and the Teacher Excellence Fund – should NOT be funded if they would reduce the allocation for school operating aid.

Lobbying teams also discussed the proposed Two-year tax cap freeze – which would be tantamount to a Vote No Proposition. This proposal would be harmful to schools and students, and exacerbate the inequality of educational opportunities district-to-district already resulting from the property tax cap. (Under the current property tax cap, the wealthiest school districts raise more than seven times the revenue of the poorest school districts (source: ECB). It will also pit homeowners against schools, and place school leaders in a no-win situation; reducing the possibility of mustering the 60 percent supermajority needed to exceed the tax cap (1.46 percent for 2014), or attempting an override of the tax cap (asking tax payers to pay more taxes and forego rebates) and running the very real risk the budget will be rejected, resulting in a $0 increase in local revenue. The refrain of expecting schools to do more with less – will in the end, result in less educators, less programs and services, and fewer students graduating college and career ready .

Common Core – Lobby teams recommended that New York State continue to phase-in Common Core Learning Standards, curricula, instructional materials, and pedagogy – following ECB’s five recommendations: Build common understanding across stakeholders, invest in professional development, ensure adequate funding, reassess the State Education Department’s approach to student testing, and engage key stakeholders in reviewing and refining implementation. The teams also recommended continuation to implement common core-aligned tests in grades 3 to 8, but the results of such testing should be used as an indicator to gauge the extent successful phase-in. There should be a “pause” or a “moratorium” on the use of 3 to 8 test results ensuring they are NOT for any high stakes purposes for students, teachers, or principals. SAANYS supports Senate Bill 6009, by John Flanagan / Assembly Bill 8356, by Catherine Nolan that would require a comprehensive independent audit to determine the validity, appropriateness, and application of common core test results – including the duration of the “pause” or “moratorium.”

During the course of meetings with state legislators, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan asked that James Viola, from SAANYS; Peter McNally, from NYSFSA; and Mark Cannizzaro, from CSA meet with staff attorneys from her office for a detailed discussion regarding the Common Core Learning Standards recommendations detailed above.

Dignity of All Students Act – The Executive Budget amendments will not further safeguard students – there is no change in the definition of harassment, bullying, discrimination and cyberbullying; no change in the student characteristics protected; no change in scope and circumstances of protection (i.e., definition of School Property). The proposal  is a heavy-handed, inappropriate approach to punish principals who fail to “promptly” complete investigations of alleged harassment, bullying, or discrimination and to report a “pattern” of harassment, bullying or discrimination of which they knew or “should have known” in a “timely” manner. The proposal would:

1.     Establish vague requirements with harsh penalties – How long is a timely investigation? How is it determined what an individual should have known?  What constitutes a pattern? What does timely mean? These questions are important when your career is on-the-line.

2.     Shift from §3020-a to §306 –

§306 specifies the bases and procedures for “removal of school officers.” It applies to a trustee, board of education member, clerk collector, treasurer, district superintendent, superintendent of schools, or other school officer. A school principal does NOT fall within the definition of public officer. The hearing is conducted by the commissioner of education, who may order the removal of the school officer from his or her office.

3.     The principal or superintendent must “promptly” report any verified pattern of harassment, bullying, or discrimination to the commissioner, the Division of Human Rights, and the Division of State Police.

Reporting requirements are currently specified in Sections 13.1.i and 15. The broader reporting of material incidents/patterns contemplated in the Executive Budget may be accommodated.

4.     SAANYS is supportive of services and DASA revisions that will better protect students and educators. For this reason, we recommend that SED make available guidance and professional development, and we also recommend a state school aid increase of $1.9 billion to reinstate some of the counseling personnel who have been cut.

Special Education Waivers – SAANYS supports the establishment of a procedure for a variance from provisions in 4402 and 4403, along with concomitant regulations. The quality of special education services would be ensured as such waivers are required to be “innovative” and consistent with federal requirements. Parents would be involved in the waiver process, culminating in review and approval by SED, and followed by annual reports by the school district/BOCES. This proposal may produce meaningful special education mandate relief, which may later be scaled-up through broader implementation.