For some time, I have been wondering whether the New York State Education Department and the Board of Regents really understood what was going on across the state.
Here we are in one of the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression and the Board of Regents, spurred on by the federal government's No Child Left Behind law, keeps revving up accountability pressures on local schools, despite less and less state aid since 2008.
The other party to this double whammy, the U.S. Department of Education, can be somewhat partially absolved since the federal government has poured more than $5 billion into New York state schools through both stimulus funds and the Jobs Funds money since 2009. In North Syracuse alone, this federal largess saved more than 100 jobs over the past two years.
Thus, I was pleased to read an insightful report, "Cost Drivers, State Aid and Education Reform: The Problem and Possible Strategies," presented to the Subcommittee on State Aid of the New York State Board of Regents.
Dated Oct. 17, the report addressed the problem very clearly: the Regents "are implementing a bold reform agenda to raise educational standards and performance," at the same time that New York state is facing a budget gap of about $1 billion this fiscal year and $9 billion in the next fiscal year. To make it even more challenging, federal stimulus funds dry up next June 30.
The report raised the vital question: what are key recommendations the Regents should make as the state balances its budget in order to minimize the impact of the budget gap on school reform? Cost containment proposals ranging from district consolidation and reorganization of services to statewide property tax caps and special education mandate relief were some of the various strategies mentioned in the report.