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Cuomo Proposes $141.6 Billion Budget Plan

Governor Andrew Cuomo

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his joint State of the State and budget message, proposing a $141.6 billion spending plan that in part sets up a show down with teachers and education advocates.

The governor wants 100 more charter schools and an overhaul of teacher evaluations, which he says are “baloney,” because virtually all teachers are rated as adequate.

“98 percent of the teachers rated effective,” Cuomo said. “Who are we kidding, my friends?”

Cuomo wants 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based on standardized tests. The rest would be from observations from at least one independent evaluator. Cuomo also wants to stiffen requirements for teacher tenure, with only those teachers who score highly on their evaluations for five consecutive years considered for tenure. Non- tenured teachers could be dismissed “at any time for any reason.”

Cuomo took a direct strike at teachers unions and their allies who are seeking billions of dollars a year in additional funding, repeating his mantra that more money is not the answer. He says the spending has only led to a bloated bureaucracy.

“It was not about creating an education industry that then supports ancillary organizations,” Cuomo said. “Let’s remember the children in this process.”

Cuomo also wants to raise the charter school cap to add 100 more charter schools, and give students at failing schools priority in the admissions process.

The governor also is challenging state lawmakers on the left and the right of the political spectrum. He’s tying enactment of the Dream Act, which would provide tuition aid for children of undocumented immigrants, and favored by progressives, with an education tax credit for donors to public and private schools championed by conservatives, as well as the Catholic Church.

And Cuomo is raising the stakes, telling lawmakers he will only agree to a major increase in school aid if they agree to his total package of reforms.

“If we make these reforms, I am prepared to make a very large investment in education,” Cuomo said.

The governor says he’d agree to up to $1.1 billion extra dollars for schools.

Predictably, legislative leaders raised objections to linking all of the reforms into one package. Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos says his members have already voted against the Dream Act.

“The dream act is a no go,” said Skelos. “We don’t believe we should be spending taxpayer dollars on people who are here illegally while other kids are saddled with student loans.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver says he doesn’t see any urgency to raise the charter school cap right now, and is against the education tax credit.

“I’m not sure that providing corporate tax relief is the way to provide the relief to parents who need it,” Silver said .

The Speaker, when asked if he felt the governor was pressuring him by linking all of the times, said “I have no pressure”.  

Teachers unions and their allies vowed to fight the proposal.

In a statement, New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee says Cuomo “misrepresents reality of public education in New York state” and calls the governor’s proposals “intellectually hollow rhetoric”.

Billy Easton, with the Alliance for Quality Education, says a campaign of rallies and other actions is planned.

“You’re going to see unprecedented unity between parents, teachers, students and community members in response to this,” Easton predicted.

He says the ball is now in the court of the state legislature. If the education changes remain tied to the state spending plan, then all of the issue will have to be settled by the end of March. 

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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