A Win, A Loss, and Something in Between

Kevin Casey, SAANYS Executive Director
June 2023 News & Notes

For all intents and purposes, the 2023 legislative session has come to a close, especially for those of us particularly interested in issues impacting education. While the Assembly plans to return the week of June 20, the Senate has concluded its session and no new legislative work is likely to occur before the next legislative session in January. Those bills passed by the legislature, but not yet signed into law, will receive gubernatorial review over the coming months.

While there were many issues that impact education (there always are), most of them do not get to the legislative finish line. Among such issues are those we don’t want to get to the finish line, and those we do. This year was no different.

The win this legislative session has been widely reported already, as it was part of the earlier state budget process. The full funding and restoration of foundation aid was a big win for education after many years of disappointment on this topic. State aid generally was positive for districts, but we have not yet heard the end of foundation aid because there is general agreement that the foundation aid formula, created almost twenty years ago at the conclusion of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity court case, desperately needs to be updated. The State Education Department has agreed to begin to undertake that task (although a specific appropriation for this project did not survive the budget process), but that promises to be both complex and political.

Among things considered a win, kind of, is when a bill that our members believe to be (unintentionally) harmful, is not passed by the legislature. That was the case with the Solutions Not Suspensions Act (“Act”). As originally introduced, the Act would have prohibited the suspension of K-3 students completely, limited suspensions to a maximum of 20 days for grade 4-12 students, prohibit suspensions for “willful disobedience,” and require restorative justice practices, the participation in which would be at the students’ option. About 75% of our members opposed this bill.

During the session, the SAANYS Government Relations Committee (GRC) members lobbied legislators against this bill and two of our members testified against it at a legislative hearing on the subject. SAANYS leadership met with the Senate Majority Leader, the Assembly Speaker, the Chairs of the Senate and Assembly Education Committees, as well as the bill sponsors (Senator Jackson and Assemblyperson Solages) to explain our concerns.

Both Senator Jackson and Assemblyperson Solages were gracious in hearing us out, and both invited us to offer alternative bill language, which we did. Some was accepted and some rejected but the Senate bill was modified to make it better than it originally was (in our opinion, but not in the opinion of the original bill’s advocates). The pushback from the bill’s advocates seemed to give the Assembly pause, and the legislative clock expired with the language of the Senate and Assembly bill differing. I have every expectation that this bill will again be an issue next legislative session.

Lastly, that perennial source of angst, APPR, was almost vastly improved (my opinion; of course others differ), but also fell victim to too many competing interests and too short a time to hammer out compromises. Most interested stakeholders (too numerous to individually identify) were agreeable to a new sub-section of the law that would allow local negotiations to develop a local system that would drive professional learning, as opposed to employment actions, without being reliant upon test scores. There were numerous iterations of a proposed bill, but the interested parties got stuck on details like how long before districts and their teacher and principal units had to convert to the new system, whether a previously negotiated system could be maintained in light of the newly proposed system and the details of SED’s role in this process.

Again, time ran out, and I view this as a loss for this session. Despite that conclusion, so much work was done and enough lessons were learned that I am optimistic that we will have another meaningful bite of this apple next session.

All this talk of conclusion probably prompts you to think of a conclusion closer to your hearts; the conclusion of the school year. I know you are very busy now, but soon will come a well-deserved reduction in pace. Please enjoy it, as it is typically well-deserved.