Commissioner's letterhead May 2008






Reflections on the budget

The 2008-09 enacted budget makes a strong commitment to education. It carries with it an equally strong expectation for improved results. In the last two budgets, the Executive and Legislature added nearly $3.4 billion to education funding. These funds flowed through a new foundation formula that linked education funding to effective educational programs. The 2008-09 budget embodies major priorities of the Regents, including foundation aid, pre-kindergarten, school safety, and accountability. The last two priorities appear in the restoration of cuts and, an extension of funding for our fingerprinting program that protects children and continuation of $15 million to support the Board’s work in assessment and school improvement.

Other Regents priorities proposed for the first time last session do not appear in this budget. Smart Scholars, the Cultural and Museum Education Act, a three-year teacher recruiting strategy, and regional P-16 alliances are good ideas worth advocating for the next budget.

Governor Paterson declared the need to control spending. Like all agencies, SED will prepare and live by a 3.35 percent reduction in operations. The Regents will discuss the 2008-09 adopted budget to assess advocacy efforts and prepare for the 2009-10 budget.

Teacher tenure regulations

The 2007-08 state budget required the Regents to implement rules governing teacher tenure decisions by July 1, 2008. The State Education Department consulted interested parties; the Regents endorsed a conceptual approach and approved a preliminary draft. However, the 2008-09 state budget amended the statute to provide that a “teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student achievement data.” The revised regulation reflecting that language is before the Regents for discussion this month.

Contract for Excellence: preliminary monitoring

The Foundation formula and the Contract for Excellence are landmarks in New York’s campaign to raise achievement. Now we must verify how the new funds are being spent. In April the Regents underscored the need to answer this question before the districts renew their contracts for excellence concerning 2008-09 funds. This month, the Regents will discuss the first preliminary monitoring report.

The report describes findings in a sample of schools in four contract districts: New York City, Buffalo, Binghamton, and Carthage. Two additional pieces of information are needed to fully evaluate the first year of the Contracts for Excellence. One is the English and mathematics test results, which we will publish before the end of the school year. The second is the independent audit reports for all contract districts, which will show how district spending comported with their contracts. Independent audits normally appear in late August to early September and are required to be submitted to the department by October 15. These reports will be reviewed with the Regents. Consequently, the preliminary report is promising but of necessity incomplete.

Accountability is at the heart of the foundation funding and the Contract for Excellence. We are accountable to the public and the legislative and executive branches for ensuring that the new funds were used to improve achievement for the children in greatest need. Where that didn’t happen, even in small details, we must take action to correct the problem. To that end, it is essential that the monitoring results be transparent and widely shared with the public.

The Regents also in May will decide whether to adopt emergency regulations governing the Contracts for Excellence. This would be the eighth such action. The decision comes to the Board because the 2008-09 budget revised some elements of this program. A second reason for the reappearance of this item is the continuing public comment. Comments reflect public participation, complaint processes, class size, English language learners (a new element in the 2008-09 budget), contract approval and amendment, and various funding allocation issues. The lengthy regulatory process reflects the Regents commitment to listen to the public and the field as this historic commitment to education reform continues to unfold. At each point, the Board has given guidance so the work can go forward, and also has continued to listen and adjust. In the end, the first question will be, “Did the children learn more?” And the second will be, “Did we do everything we could to ensure that the funds were spent as intended?”

Closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities

The Regents will discuss the policies now in place to improve the achievement of children with disabilities. The discussion item reports are consistent with the vision the Board established in its P-16 Plan for Action that followed from the USNY Summit. This item is particularly relevant given the Board’s commitment to build capacity through better data, deployment of research-based practice, and stronger organization.

VESID has promoted effective practices and will step up this work in 2008-09 with a Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) Technical Assistance Center, among other actions. There is a tight focus on practices in three areas: literacy, behavioral supports and interventions, and delivery of services. This includes continuing use of national experts to build expertise within the State Educational Department and among our regional partners and local school districts. VESID has built organizational capacity in several ways, such as by requiring all Special Education Training and Resource Center (SETRC) personnel to complete a training program in reading.

Graduation rates for children with disabilities remain unacceptably low, particularly among the Big Five school districts. The Regents adopted a Statewide Performance Plan with performance targets, and has followed through in February with annual reporting against those targets. VESID has simultaneously identified districts in need of improvement and allocated significant federal funds to improve results.

Rate-setting for special education programs

The Regents will discuss a report on how rate-setting works now and can be improved. Rate-setting establishes tuition for over 850 approved special education programs in private schools, public schools, special act school districts, BOCES, and the state-operated schools in Rome and Batavia. The existing process is complex and lengthy for all parties. Many rates are appealed during the year in an attempt to be reimbursed for changed circumstances that required greater expenditures than anticipated.

The Executive’s Temporary Task Force on Preschool Special Education recommended improving rate-setting to strengthen the administration of this vital funding stream.

The proposed improvement includes allowable cost parameters, regional cost differences, accommodation for enrollment fluctuations, and appeal procedures that will improve timeliness. The Regents item describes how rate-setting works now, presents a schedule and describes progress so far. This is an example of how a complicated and unpopular process can be reengineered to become more efficient and customer-friendly.

Teacher supply and demand

The Regents will discuss the third in a series of reports on teacher quality. The most recent data for 2006-2007 show that over 95 percent of core academic classes were taught by highly qualified teachers, but the results were lower in high-poverty middle and secondary schools. In New York City, eight percent of teachers had no prior teaching experience, as compared to less than five percent in other regions. Statewide, five percent of teaching assignments in all subjects were filled by teachers without appropriate certification. In most subjects, New York issued twice as many certificates as there were vacancies, but there were shortages in career and technical education, languages other than English, school library media specialists, middle and secondary level special education and bilingual special education. The diversity of new teachers did not match the diversity of the student body.