$300 Million at Stake for NYC Students

It is no secret that public education throughout this country suffers from a chronic lack of funding. And yet, almost nobody knows that NYC public schools stand to lose $300 million dollars in State funding from next year’s budget.

If the NYC Department of Education (DOE) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) do not come to a consensus over a new teacher evaluation system by January 17, Governor Cuomo will withhold a scheduled 4% increase in funding to the City’s schools. This means that, across the City, principals will be forced to make tough choices in the face of shrinking budgets.

We all know how the story goes: the “non-essentials” have to go first. After-school programs, arts and music, language specialists, substitute teachers, remedial and credit recovery programs for those seeking a second chance in the classroom; these are just a few of the many places where school leaders will have to begin making cuts that they don’t want to make. It should go without saying that our city’s most disadvantaged kids stand to lose the most here. And for what? A history of mutual antagonism between the adults in charge of the DOE and UFT, a history which neither side is in too much of a hurry to change.

How did we even get ourselves in this situation? Although a bit convoluted, my hope here is to sketch out the basic narrative of recent teacher evaluation reform in New York State. The story begins in July 2010, when the State won a Race to the Top grant from the Federal government worth $700 million, thanks to its proposal for innovating and reforming State-level education policy according to guidelines set up by the Obama administration.

In May 2010, Gov. Patterson signed into law a bill passed by the State assembly reforming its approach to teacher evaluations. This law, 3012-c, is a huge reason why the Federal government decided to declare New York a RttT winner two months later. 3012-c states that 40% of a teacher’s evaluation score is to be determined by student achievement data, while the remaining 60% is accounted for mostly by administrator observations, one of which must be unannounced. The law also moved our teacher rating system from two-tiers to four. So instead of just “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory,” a teacher can now be rated in a much more meaningful and comprehensive manner, as either “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Developing” or “Ineffective.”

One of the great things about 3012-c is that it allows--in fact requires--each of the 700+ school districts in the State to determine for themselves just what this 40/60 breakdown of the State’s evaluation guidelines will look like on the ground. In order to make this decision official, each district’s DOE and local union will have to agree and sign off on a new framework for evaluating teachers, before submitting it to the State for review and approval.

The NYC school district still has yet to submit this plan to the State. Knowing that the UFT and school district leaders have never been eager to converse in the past, Gov. Cuomo made his promise to withhold a scheduled 4% increase in State aid to districts which are unable to reach a compromise with local teachers unions on evaluations before January 17. In NYC, this cut amounts to a whopping $300 million dollars.

It is clear that Gov. Cuomo will not let go of his stick. And there is no reason for us to ask that of him. We believe that a timely deal is possible. All the DOE and UFT need to do is get it together and get on board with State law, for the sake of the kids which both organizations ultimately exist to serve. We don’t know what it is that’s holding up their talks, because nobody is talking about the hold up.

It should also be noted that 3012-c prohibits teachers from negotiating for a new contract until their particular district reforms its evaluation system according to the State guidelines. So we know that the City’s DOE and UFT will eventually have to compromise on teacher evaluations, if only for the sake of a new contract. We think they might as well do it before $300 million are taken off the table, for the sake of the students.

Join the Students for Education Reform on Thursday November 29 at 6:00pm, as we march downtown from the NYC UFT building to the steps of the NYC DOE building, demanding that a deal be reached. We are not taking sides, and we are not assigning blame. We are marching to ensure that students do not lose out on essential components of their education because of a disagreement between the adults. Help us make some noise in the name of compromise.