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Governor Spitzer Proposes Major Education Policy and Funding Reforms

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Elliot Spitzer

Elliot Spitzer

Calls for full accountability, a comprehensive plan, and a total revision of the school funding formula


Eliot Spitzer has proposed an overhaul of the state’s education finance system that will tie far-reaching accountability reforms to the “the largest infusion of resources” in state history and change the entire funding formula in a way that aligns dollars with the needs of children.

 
In releasing his first executive budget on January 31, the Governor announced his historic aid increase for New York’s schools. The courts in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) case have established a $2 billion minimum increase just for New York City, and the governor has made it clear that his “Contract for Excellence” [click here for speech] is a statewide agenda. Spitzer’s budget provides a $1.4 billion statewide increase for the upcoming year in the budget, increasing to $7 billion after four years [click here for budget].  New York City would get an increase of approximately $1.2 billion for 2007-2008, rising to cumulative $5.4 billion after four years, in combined city and state funding.

 
“We applaud Governor Spitzer for proposing the most comprehensive school funding accountability system ever seen in New York State. The courts in the CFE case were firm that real accountability must accompany any increase in funding. This proposal is a big step toward compliance with the CFE mandate,” said Michael A. Rebell, executive director of The Campaign for Educational Equity and former counsel for the plaintiffs in the CFE case.

 
The Spitzer camp is calling its set of reforms a “contract” with districts. In exchange for truly adequate funding, districts receiving major sums ($15 million more or a 10 percent increase over the previous year) are required to develop a comprehensive plan for how they will direct their funding and implement their educational programs. As Spitzer explained, “The Federal No Child Left Behind Act sadly demonstrated that accountability without resources is a false promise. But we also know that resources without accountability are a recipe for waste.”

 
Spitzer urged investing dollars in programs and strategies that are proven to work, such as reducing class sizes and improving the quality of teaching, and said each district will have to select from “a menu of approved strategies and initiatives.” Under the plan, districts will also have to produce real measures of performance improvement to evaluate success. The comprehensive plan will come out of a public process that will involve every education stakeholder in the district.

 
A landmark piece of Spitzer’s address was his calls for a new “foundation” funding formula that will ensure education dollars match the actual needs of schoolchildren, not the needs of politicians. The state’s current formulas have been notoriously subject to political manipulation. Spitzer seeks to replace these “byzantine and politically driven school aid formulas that are annually manipulated to produce predetermined results” with a “more efficient, transparent, and reform-minded” school aid formula.

 
“Rhetoric has been flying around for years to fix the state’s arcane and unfair funding formulas, but Spitzer has put a real proposal on the table to actually do it with a foundation formula that offers a fair and simplified way to distribute dollars,” Rebell said.

 

Spitzer also proposed to establish universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs within the next four years.

 
While it is difficult to predict what may emerge from the legislative process come April, “A Contract for Excellence,” at least in theory, holds the potential to meet each aspect of the highest court ruling in the CFE case—adequate funding distributed based on actual student need plus rigorous accountability.

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