Cuomo Draws Battle Lines Over Evaluations, Tenure, Charters

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In his fifth State of the State Address, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a number of education reforms that have put him in direct conflict with the state’s teachers unions.

For the past few weeks, the governor has made it known that he feels it is too easy to pass the state’s teacher grading system, in turn making it difficult to fire educators who may not be performing as well as they should be.  In addition, he would like to see the limit on the number of charter schools either increased, or eliminated all together.  The governor went on to say that a tax credit should be available for people and companies who donate money to public schools and private school scholarships, writes Kate Taylor for The New York Times.

In terms of accountability measures, Cuomo proposed that half of teacher’s evaluation ratings would be generated from student performance on standardized exams, an increase from the current 20%. The other 50% would come from classroom observations by school officials and an independent educator.

He went on to propose that any teacher who earned a rating of ineffective based on student test scores or observations should be banned from gaining an overall rating of effective. In addition, he suggested that teachers should not be able to receive tenure until they have five years in a row of effective ratings. The current ruling is set to three consecutive years.

Those who receive a rating of “highly effective” could also gain a $20,000 bonus.

He would also like to see teachers accused of sexual or physical abuse be suspended without pay. Once cleared, backpay would be given.

He is also continuing to back charter schools, suggesting the number of charter schools allowed in the state increase from 460 to 560, which would end special restrictions placed on New York City.  Cuomo would also like to see charter schools receive an additional $750 in aid per student.

Those students who currently attend failing public schools would be given special treatment when applying to charter schools, reports Aaron Short for The New York Post.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would need additional time to comment on the governor’s proposals, he did say that he does not approve of adding charter schools.  “We need to do a much better job on public-school education. I think the cap we have now is sufficient,” the mayor said.

The teachers unions in the state were quick to express anger over each of these proposals.  They had already placed hundreds of thousands of dollars toward television advertisements to air in New York City and Albany this month in preparation of the governor’s speech.

Union leaders, teachers, parents and students all met on January 12 at the Capitol for a rally, calling the issues brought up by the governor distractions and asking instead for the focus to be placed on increasing funding for schools.

“He has declared war on the public schools,” Karen E. Magee, the president of New York State United Teachers, said in an interview.  “I’ll be happy to stand with the teachers, the students and the parents if the governor wants to have a war,” Ms. Magee continued, adding, “I’m more than confident that we will win.”

And it seems Cuomo has listened.  His speech continued to propose an increase of school funding by $1.1 billion, or 4.8%.  The increase, he said, is dependent on the Legislature’s approval.  If they choose to stick with the status quo, the budget would only go up by the planned amount of $377 million.

“Let’s remember the children in the process. Then we’ll end up doing the right thing,” Cuomo said in a unique combined State of the State address and budget presentation.