For the second time, very few school districts in New York have applied for Governor Andrew Cuomo's academic initiatives that are overwhelmingly supported by education experts. The governor is offering schools millions of dollars, but many districts aren't interested in the money.
This year, the vast majority of eligible school districts did not apply for Gov. Cuomo's $75 million competitive grants, which would fund the creation of full-day Pre-Kindergarten, extend the school day or year, create community schools where at-risk students can get health care, counseling and other services, and reward high-performing teachers in high-need districts, writes Jessica Bakeman of Capital New York.
According to education experts, schools are not interested in applying for grants due to many reasons. They believe that the main reason is schools do not want to build programs they will have to dismantle when grants expire. A first round of grants also drew few applications.
"One of the things that school districts want to know, particularly in an uncomfortable economic environment, is whether or not those dollars will be sustainable," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said after a meeting in Albany. "Can I afford to create a program that might be funded for only two or three years?"
According to updated numbers provided by the state, 90 school districts applied for the Pre-K grant out of the 366 that were eligible. With fewer than a quarter of districts applying, that program attracted the most interest. About 19% of eligible districts applied for the community schools grant, 69 of 366.
The grant period for extended learning time and community schools is three years each, according to the state's request for proposals (RFP). The Pre-K grant initially covers seven months, from December to June, and it can be renewed annually if schools hit certain performance targets.
Schools endured state-spending cuts or flat funding for several years until Gov. Cuomo began increasing funding. Total state aid to schools this fiscal year was $21.1 billion, including the grants, which was an increase of about $1 billion from the previous year. Schools are still grappling with soaring pension costs, though, and their ability to raise revenue is limited by a statewide property-tax cap.
The grant that would cover the cost of extending the school day or year by 25% was offered to all of New York's school districts, but it generated the least interest. Only 25 out of 674 districts, or about 4%, applied.
Cuomo's master teacher program, which provides high-performing teachers with a $60,000 stipend over four years, solicited 317 applications in its first round. The state doesn't have a solid number on how many teachers were eligible, but the first round was open to middle- and high-school math and science teachers with more than four years of experience who live in one of four regions of the state: central and western New York, the mid-Hudson Valley and the North Country.
Education Commissioner John King, who is elected by the Board of Regents, also refuted that participation in the grant programs has been lacking. He said that the state should fund the programs for more students.