The Regents Adopt a State Aid Proposal
The Regents in November directed their State Aid Subcommittee to meet in early December to adopt a state aid recommendation consistent with their policy, and the subcommittee did so. The Board decided on this approach in view of the accelerated budget calendar this year. The Regents recommend a $1 billion reduction in the amount previously enacted by the state and an $879 million increase, 4.1 percent over last year. The recommendation preserves the Foundation Aid formula by extending the phase-in, advances universal pre-kindergarten with a $61 million increase, recognizes the need for high tax aid ($50 million), and keeps the commitment to reimburse expense-based aids. In addition, the recommendation continues the Contracts for Excellence as a fundamental part of the 2007 decision to adopt foundation aid, and proposes mandate relief, continued cost savings through shared services, and approaches to slow the growth of special education costs.
This proposal balances several competing objectives: the Board’s responsibility to advance an aid recommendation to close the achievement gap, recognition of the recession, and the intent to lead with cost containment strategies. This recommendation is responsive to Regents comments at the November meeting and during the subcommittee debate. The Board has the right recommendation for a tough time.
Containing Costs and Raising Achievement
The Regents have demonstrated their commitment to containing the growth in the cost of education in several ways, including their state aid recommendation, discussions with gubernatorial commissions, and proposals to strengthen BOCES and reduce school district reporting and planning requirements. At the same time, the Regents expect that all students will graduate with a diploma that signifies readiness for citizenship, higher education and work. This means we must have high student achievement at an affordable cost.
There is ample evidence in the data and local practice that high achievement is a priority across the state. The Regents are renewing the learning standards, have developed a growth model of accountability, and are identifying best practices to raise graduation rates for specific groups of students. The reports from the Commission on Property Tax Relief and the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Effectiveness, as well as recommendations from the District Superintendents, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, the New York State School Boards Association and many other groups are yielding thoughtful ways to contain costs and maximize resources. What we need now is action to implement the most powerful strategies that serve two goals: higher achievement and maximized resources. We must put some of the many good ideas into practice. The State Aid Subcommittee will discuss cost containment during the January Regents meeting.
Communications Capacity: NYSED.Gov Redesign
We are redesigning our website to make it easier and faster to use, improve communication with the public, and enhance our online presence. During the December meeting the Regents will see a new, customer-friendly home page, in addition to new Board of Regents and GED pages. During the coming months we will roll out individual pages with a full redesign by spring 2009.
This initiative required the collaboration and expertise of over 40 SED staff, from graphic designers and web developers to content managers. By capitalizing on internal resources, we have maintained our standards of excellence while saving more than $100,000. We will continue this collaboration as we implement a web governance process to ensure our online presence remains dynamic and fresh.
Charter School Policy Questions
The Regents will identify the policy issues related to charter schools they wish to examine in more detail in future months. Here are some suggestions:
Taking Stock of Progress on the Statewide Plan for Higher Education
The Regents defined priorities for higher education and the four sectors of higher education responded by writing the plan, which the Board adopted in 2005. It was visionary, with a distinctly P-16 perspective. The follow-through by institutions of higher education, SED and the Board has been energetic. We are now at the mid-point of implementation and it’s time to take stock. The Regents discussed the draft report in November and will have a revised draft for the December meeting.
Improving Outcomes in the Payroll Function
The Audit Committee continues its careful review of audit trends this month with a focus on the payroll function. This is another example of the Regents focus on controlling costs. Salaries and fringe benefits are two of the largest expense categories in local school budgets. Office of the State Comptroller audits reveal recurring problems, including overpayments or inappropriate payments, misclassification of independent contractors as employees, failure to segregate duties in payroll processing, and lack of payroll policies and procedures.
Staff will advise the committee that there is limited guidance available to school districts on this topic, and therefore recommends that a curriculum be developed in concert with our partners the New York State School Boards Association, the New York State Council of School Superintendents, and the New York State Association of School Business Officials.
After a review of the most recent audit trend analysis, the Audit Committee recommended policy changes to strengthen the claims auditor function, which will be brought to the Regents.
Social Workers, Psychologists and Mental Health Practitioners
The mission of the Office of Professions is two-fold: to protect the public from illegal practice of the professions and to protect the integrity of the professions themselves. Accomplishing that mission is complex at all times but occasionally it requires unusual diligence and we are at such a moment. A 2002 law restricts the practice of psychotherapy to individuals licensed by the State Education Department, where previously anyone could provide those services. The statute also establishes two new professions in place of a single social worker license, and four additional mental health professions. Because many state and local agencies have provided services in these fields for many years using appropriately qualified persons who did not require licensure before the law took effect, the legislature provided an exemption to licensure in these settings until 2010. However, many of the individuals providing services in these exempt programs are not licensed and may not meet the requirements for licensure by January 2010. The Office of Professions leadership has conferred with interested parties to seek a legislative resolution that will lead to eventual licensure while preventing an immediate collapse of service delivery. Several unintended consequences of the law must also be addressed, such as, authorizing not-for-profit organizations with a long history of providing human services to continue to provide professional services. The Professional Practice Committee will discuss the current state of these talks as the legislature is about to convene.
Renewing the Standards
Clear and challenging academic standards have been the starting point for the Regents long campaign to raise achievement. In the P-16 Plan adopted after the USNY Summit, the Regents reaffirmed the importance of standards and committed to renewing them. State law subsequently required review of the standards. Chancellor Bennett asked Regent Saul Cohen to lead a committee to review and then renew the English Language Arts standards, as Chapter 57, Laws of 2007 requires. With the advice of more than 1,000 educators and members of the public, national education organizations including Achieve, Inc. and Skills for the 21st Century, New York-based experts, and SED staff, the committee is preparing draft standards. Regent Cohen will describe the results so far and the work remaining to complete this project.
Designing VESID’s Future
VESID’s follow-through on a 2006 commitment by the Regents to improve employment outcomes for persons with disabilities has been strong. The VESID Committee will review the outcomes promised—and now achieved--in the plan the Board adopted two years ago, to improve marketing of services to consumers and employers, enhance collaboration, expand outreach, and redesign service delivery structures.
Reporting Test Results Faster
The Regents expect that SED will continue to develop a service oriented organization. The people we serve will know when we are succeeding in that aim when products and services that they value arrive fast and accurately. The current one-day turnaround for a teacher license to graduates of approved programs is but one indicator of SED’s commitment to high levels of service.
In December we will report actions to accelerate the release of grade 3-8 test scores, which is another product highly valued by those we serve in school districts and communities. We will also describe why tests are administered when they are, and what options exist for alternative schedules.