Tasked with identifying concrete reforms to improve New York’s public education system and bolster student performance, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Commission released its preliminary report on January 2, 2013. While the 25-member commission mustered unanimous support for a number of significant proposals, including full-day pre-K for students in the highest needs school districts and extended learning time, its report does not address a core issue: funding.
Since convening in April, the commission has heard testimony from hundreds of New Yorkers at 11 public hearings across the state, reviewed data on student performance as it relates to demographic factors, and met in executive session to agree on a set of reforms. Finding a “significant achievement gap between rich and poor and between white students and non-white students,” the members stress the need for targeted support for children in high-needs districts. The action plan, which consists of two parts – strengthen the academic pipeline from pre-k through college and ensure the education pipeline has the best teachers and principals — includes the following recommendations:
Increase access to early educational opportunities by providing high quality full-day prekindergarten for students in highest needs school districts
Restructure schools by integrating social, health and other services through community schools to improve student performance
Begin to restructure the school day and year by extending student learning time with academically enriched programming.
Establish model admissions requirements for teacher and principal preparation programs to raise the bar for new educators.
Promote increased access to educational opportunities by encouraging school district restructuring through consolidation and regional high schools.
Many education leaders, including commission member Michael Rebell, are disappointed by the commission’s failure to address funding issues that have forced districts across the state to drastically cut teachers and student services. Rebell describes the report as “icing on top of the cake — but we don’t have any cake.” Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York School Boards Association calls the recommendations ”well meaning” but criticizes them for not going far enough “to stop the increased slide of these districts into fiscal and programmatic insolvency.” He stresses that “the real work will be finding the resources and political will to implement them properly.”
A week after the release of the commission’s report, in his State of the State Address, Governor Cuomo proposed state funding for full-day pre-K in low income districts. He picked up on the commissions’ recommendations for extended time by suggesting districts should apply for state funds through a competitive grant program aimed at adding more hours to the school year. While some education advocates praised the agenda as a step in the right direction, many rebuked Cuomo for ignoring the dire situation facing districts already struggling to provide basic services; the Albany Times Union Editorial Board responded, “That’s it? What happened to reforming or paying for the unfunded mandates the state imposes on governments? What about aid some may need just to stay afloat?”