Charter school advocates cheered Gov. Andrew Cuomo Wednesday while traditional public school supporters jeered at his proposed education reforms.
Ahead of Cuomo's address, both sides squeezed Cuomo to live up to his longstanding promise to improve the state's flailing public education system. The question was when and how he would do so.
"I understand there will be political problems for people on both sides of the aisle," Cuomo said to a crowd that included 300 public school students. "But if we want to really invest in the system, then make it the right system and don't make the taxpayers in New York throw good money after bad."
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Advocates for teachers don't quite agree with the proposed system, especially a long-debated evaluation system that would weigh statewide tests results equally with classroom evaluations.
Karen Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers, countered Cuomo's claims that New York is failing its poorest students and said the state actually has one of the strongest public education systems nationwide.
"Gov. Cuomo should be celebrating that excellence," Magee said. "Instead, today we get intellectually hollow rhetoric that misrepresents the state of teaching and learning."
She added: “Students, parents and teachers, who know better, aren’t buying this agenda, which everyone knows is driven by the governor’s billionaire hedge-fund friends.”
NYSUT also criticized Cuomo — who has previously received major campaign contributions from individuals closely tied to charter school advocates — for not addressing overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks, standardized testing and disappearing cultural programing.
Earlier this month, NYSUT launched a $1 million ad campaign that highlighted inadequate school funding.
"It's time to move beyond politics, Gov. Cuomo," the voiceover said. "Support our future. Fairly fund our schools."
But airwaves were equally crowded with an ad from StudentsFirstNY, a school choice and charter-friendly organization that used Cuomo's own words from last year's State of the State when he asked "can you imagine how smart this state would be when we actually educate all our children to the best of their God-given potential?"
In response, the ad asked, "When?"
On Wednesday, StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis applauded Cuomo's plans as "bold" and called him an undaunted advocate for students.
According to the group, the big difference between this year’s promises and last is the detailed list of reforms, including a narrowing of the gap between how much charter schools and traditional district schools get per student.
Dan Rubenstein, co-founder and executive director of Brooklyn Prospect Charter Schools, agreed and hoped Cuomo might go a little further to create a uniform funding model. Currently, a charter school student 67 cents for every dollar spent on a student in a district school.
Rubenstein explained that he expects to operate four charter schools, each with a different funding formula. And that doesn’t take into account how much his and many other charter schools pay to rent classroom space that district schools don’t.
“I would hope we could simplify everything and fund all students equally,” Rubenstein said.
Cuomo’s Education Reform Proposals
- Kick off 5 teacher evaluation system wherein 50 percent is based on state test scores and 50 percent on classroom observation.
- Incentivize good teachers and only offer tenure after 5 years of effective ratings.
- Pay tuition for SUNY and CUNY top grads if they commit to teach in New York schools for 5 years.
- Take over failing schools have nonprofits or experts turn them into "community schools."
- Raise statewide cap on charter schools to 100 and "eliminate artificial limits on where charter schools will open."
- Give preference in charter school lotteries to students from failing schools.
- Offer $100 million in tax credits for donors to public and private schools.
- Pass a $27 million DREAM Act to allow certain young, undocumented New Yorkers to access higher education.
- Extend mayoral control of schools in New York City.
- Increase education funding to $1.1 billion from current $377 million if all proposals pass Legislature.