Posts tagged ‘Andrew Cuomo’

May 22, 2015

New York Governor Cuomo pushes tax credits for private schools

by Grace

New York Governor Cuomo has proposed a “Parental Choice in Education Act”, a $150 million tax credit benefiting private schools.

… The Act provides for $150 million in education tax credits annually that will provide:

  1. Tax credits to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools,
  2. Scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either a public school outside of their district or a nonpublic school,
  3. Incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programming (like after school programs); and,
  4. Tax credits to public school teachers for the purchase of supplies.

It’s no surprise that teacher unions oppose these proposals, while religious leaders support them.  The outlook is uncertain for passage, and the outcome may give a clue about the strength of the school choice movement in New York.

February 16, 2015

Scott Walker — destroyer or savior of higher education?

by Grace

In defending his proposal to cut Wisconsin’s higher education budget by $300 million over two years, Governor Scott Walker admonished professors to “work harder”.

“Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work and this authority frees up the [University of Wisconsin] administration to make those sorts of requests,” …

Maybe he should have focused more on administrative costs, which have far outpaced instructional costs in American universities.

But now comes word from UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the cuts would come in the form of layoffs of administrative personnel”.

Deans, directors and department heads will be responsible for making decisions on how budget cuts are allocated, but administrative units will take will take larger cuts in an effort to preserve educational functions, she said.

It seems that common sense may prevail, but concern remains that the governor and possible presidential candidate may be trying to kill liberal arts education.

Walker proposed to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. He apparently wanted to strip out its frills (stuff like “extended training,” “public service,” improving “the human condition,” and “the search for truth”) and inject it with a more practical goal: meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker later backtracked and ‘blamed the changes on a last-minute “drafting error”‘.  But skeptics remain suspicious that liberal arts will increasingly take a back seat to vocational programs.

Liberal-arts and humanities programs at public universities are increasingly under siege as state legislatures cut the institutions’ funding, forcing school administrators to make tough decisions about what to eliminate. The obvious targets are the programs that yield a lower return on investment—at least in a concrete, monetary sense—and are more nebulous in their impact on the economy. What sounds like it has more dollar signs and productivity attached to it: philosophy or America’s favorite new acronym, STEM?

Maybe these critics should also focus on New York’s Democratic Governor Cuomo, who has pushed for increased funding of vocational programs in state colleges, and incentivized partnerships between business and schools that promote workforce training through his START-UP NY initiative.  Cuomo also established a STEM scholarship program last year.

I have not heard of any states pouring additional resources into liberal arts higher education.  Which may be a shame, but is understandable.

This workforce-centric approach “is designed for short-term learning and long-term disaster.”

The problem is that, unlike most STEM fields, universities have lowered standards for liberal arts education.

In theory, a college liberal arts degree is a valuable commodity in the job market. In reality, the way colleges have diluted the curriculum means a liberal arts degree offers little added value in qualifying workers for today’s job market.

So the question is, who is actually trying to kill liberal arts education?

———

Lucy McCalmont, “Scott Walker urges professors to work harder”, Politico, January 29, 2015.

Ann Althouse, “How will the University of Wisconsin—Madison absorb something like $90 million in cuts from Scott Walker’s new budget?”, Althouse, February 12, 2015.

Alia Wongfeb, “The Governor Who (Maybe) Tried to Kill Liberal-Arts Education”, Atlantic, February 11, 2015.

March 14, 2013

Even after recent reform, New York teacher pension costs will rise 37%

by Grace

A history of New York State public school pension reform:

20130309.COCNYPensionTiers2

Recent reform that saw the creation of Tier 6 is unlikely to offer taxpayers any relief for at least a decade.

Over time, lawmakers have passed legislation to reduce the cost of pensions to state and local governments and school districts. The avenue they have used to do this is to create additional “tiers”—levels of membership that carry different benefits and requirements. After the passage of Tier 5 in 2009, calls for pension reform persisted, and a new Tier 6 was enacted this year.

Gov. Cuomo has said that the recently enacted pension reform will save the state more than $80 billion over the next 30 years. However, according to the NYS Comptroller’s Office, the creation of Tier 6 will not significantly lower pension costs for schools in the immediate future to prevent the kinds of program cuts many districts face in the next few years.

This is because the new pension tier applies only to new employees hired after April 1, 2012. With school districts struggling to balance their budgets in this difficult economy, most are laying off staff rather than hiring new employees who would fall into the new tier.

Pension costs have continued to surge out of control, as I wrote last year.

… skyrocketing public pension costs are “the single biggest threat” to local schools’ ability to deliver educational  services for New York children.  In our local district, pension costs have risen more than 50% over the last two years and now account for 7.2% of the total budget, up from 5.1% in 2010-11.  This has meant ongoing cuts in student services as taxes are diverted to pay for pensions.  The trend is up, and by 2015 pension costs are expected to eat up 35 percent of property tax collections.

There is no relief in sight.  Teacher pension costs for the 2013-14 school year will rise 37%.

Related:

February 4, 2013

Despite increased education spending, surging pension costs only allow New York schools to ‘tread water’

by Grace

The 4.4% increase in school spending proposed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is not enough according to some education advocates.

Cuomo’s budget plan for the fiscal year that starts April 1 includes a 3 percent increase — about $610 million — in education aid plus $203 million to offset high pension contribution costs. An additional $75 million would go toward initiatives highlighted in his State of the State address.

Proposed funding barely allows schools to “tread water”.

“The year-to-year costs in education just to tread water are more than the amount of money in the proposed budget,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the labor-backed advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education. “If we actually want to improve the schools — that’s not even addressed here.”

Governor Cuomo argues that the 8.6% increase in education funding over the last two years has been double the inflation rate.

“That is double the rate of inflation,” Cuomo said in Tuesday’s address. “That is four or five times the increase in home values during the same period of time and it’s during a period of time where student enrollment has gone down.”

Schools across the state report that steep rises in pension costs more than cancel out any increases in proposed funding.

New Paltz Superintendent Maria Rice said teachers’ retirement costs alone at the Ulster County district are growing by about $900,000, so the $333,500 increase won’t come close.

The district would get about $12.4 million, a 2.8 percent increase from last year, when including building aid. The county’s average is 2 percent.

Based on the aid, Rice projects the district will have to cut between $800,000 and $1 million to balance the budget, which is “luckily” less than last year’s gap, she said.

The district cut its pre-K program and increased class sizes this year. Next year, she said she’ll debate whether to cut Advanced Placement courses or eliminate an elementary foreign language program which she said has been successful.

Some schools are considering taking advantage of a new “pension-financing plan”.

The pension stabilization option would give local governments and school districts a lower, more predictable employer contribution rate over a period of 25 years or more, rather than high bills now and presumably lower ones later.

Not everyone believes this new scheme will work, with some calling it a “threat to pension solvency”.

The state’s largest public union is right. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to “smooth” pensions for local governments and school districts is “a bait-and-switch scheme … that will allow public employers to underfund their pension obligations,” as the Civil Service Employees Association described it last week.

Kicking the can down the road
Instead of providing real mandate relief to remedy the unsustainable rise in pension costs, the governor is promoting a quick fix that will temporarily hide the problem until a few years down the road when it will resurface.  This has become a typical scenario among our politicians.

Related:

January 30, 2013

Quick Links – Union membership keeps falling; 4.4% increase in proposed spending for education in New York; our educational mess

by Grace

◊◊◊  ‘Union membership falls to 70-year low’ (The Detroit News)

Washington — The nation’s unions lost 400,000 members in 2012 as the percentage of U.S. workers represented by a labor union fell to 11.3 percent, its lowest level since the 1930s – declining by 0.5 percent over the last year.

Michigan accounted for about 10 percent of the nation’s loss of unionized workers as the Wolverine State fell to the seventh most-unionized state, from fifth in 2011.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the biggest hit was in public sector unions, where many states and cities have cut back on their unionized workforce.

Sharp difference between higher rate of union membership in the public sector and lower rate among private workers

Among public sector workers, 35.9 percent are in a union – down from 37.0 percent in 2011, as the public sector shed nearly 250,000 union workers.

The public sector union rate is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers. In the private sector, 6.6 percent are unionized, down from 6.9 percent in 2011.


◊◊◊  New York State proposed budget increases funding for most local public schools

All Westchester County school districts except for three will received increased state funding under Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2013-14 budget.  Increases range from 17.5% (Hendrick Hudson) to 0.3% (Scarsdale).  Our local district will see its state funding increase by 5.8%.

The statewide average increase in proposed education aid is 4.4%, with “no broad-based tax increases”.


◊◊◊  David Solway schools us on the Educational Mess We’re In

David Solway describes the content-free, guide-on-the-side culture of today’s classroom using language that had me reaching for a dictionary a few times.  In the comments, he’s criticized for stringing “ten dollar words into sentences one has to read twice to understand”.  I would have to agree, but it was fun to read this twice!

This paradigm is instantly recognizable by the contents and procedures that dominate our public school classrooms: films galore, computer simulations, audio-visual devices, “testable competencies,” PowerPoint presentations, concept maps, information transfer, virtual whiteboards, expurgated texts, true-or-false exams demanding little in the way of written formulation of ideas, and so on. Teachers are trained to emphasize method, to prepare “instructional designs,” to focus on “techniques” of transmission, to valorize process instead of matter, to generate “lesson plans” rather than lessons — “That’s the reason they’re called lessons,” remarked the Gryphon in Alice in Wonderland, “because they lessen from day to day.” Meanwhile, since they are expected to be communicators rather than preceptors, teachers are regularly shunted around the curriculum and required to teach outside their disciplines — which, be it said, they have often failed to master owing to the institutional stress placed on tactics and delivery rather than on grist and corpus. Thus the poor geography teacher becomes a worse gym instructor.

Doubtlessly, the penchant for instrumental modes of teaching has been with us since time immemorial, but in the current climate it has been exalted into a hypothetically remedial ideology and institutionalized as a pervasive method of committee-backed instruction. It is high time we became aware, then, that despite all the media hype and the inundation of formulaic pamphlets, primers, and manuals which experts, specialists, and many public school teachers have unfathomably welcomed, and the misguided policy to hire 100,000 more ill-equipped teachers, the techniques that have become so popular these days do not work. As I wrote in Education Lost: Reflections on Contemporary Pedagogical Practice, “the fundamental premise at the bottom of modern educational theory, namely that teaching is a science whose operative concepts are those of storage, dissemination and skill-replication…is faltering badly, especially in those disciplines which are not data-based.”

At the very least, I learned a new synonym for “teacher”:  preceptor.  I wonder how long it’ll be before I figure out how to slip that word into my writing.

January 16, 2013

Quick Links – Public pensions don’t work so well; New York education reform report; Googling still might be making us stupid

by Grace

◊◊◊  How public pensions work

It’s not pretty:

Politicians around the country have demonstrated complete inability to manage pensions effectively. They promise big benefits, don’t tax voters enough to pay for them, and then invest the money in fly by night, risky Wall Street schemes (with big fees for their banking cronies and contributors) in the hopes that a few big wins and aggressive moves will cover the funding gap.

Those are Walter Russell Mead’s words, written upon learning that the New York City comptroller proposed “taking New York’s pension money and investing it in mortgages, loans, and infrastructure projects” to help in the recovery after Hurricane Sandy.  On the surface this might seem like a good idea.

But the temptations and pitfalls are huge. Let local politicians get the idea that pension funds are pots of money that can be invested in pet projects, and it won’t take long before bad things start to happen. The potential for conflict of interest is just too high for this to be a good idea.


◊◊◊  New York State – Governor Cuomo Education Reform Commission released its preliminary report this month.

The report has generated complaints that it includes big ideas with no specifics about funding.

The gubernatorial panel established to recommend a host of education reforms and priorities produced a series of ideas that Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself earlier today admitted would be a heavy lift.

The proposals announced by commission chairman Dick Parsons would expand pre-K and Kindergarten to a full day, lengthen the school year and create a so-called “bar exam” to ensure teacher competency.

Unless they first make fundamental reforms in curriculum and teaching, I would not want my kids to be captives of the public schools for any longer than the 180 days required today.

The report also recommends consolidating schools and districts to save money, an old idea that has repeatedly met strong resistance in many areas.  The idea of “making schools a hub for health care and social services” is a pipe dream given the aversion to raising taxes in the current economic environment.


◊◊◊  ‘Does Constant Googling Really Make You Stupid?’ [Excerpt] (Scientific American)

From Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by Robin Marantz Henig & Samantha Henig

Preliminary data suggest that all those tweets, status updates and other digital distractions may actually stave off cognitive decline

A small study of 24 older adults found that frequent Googling “appears to enhance brain circuitry”.  However, it seems a wild leap to conclude from this that it enhances “sophisticated thinking and higher-order cognition”.

… Google, it seems, might be doing something different to the brains of digital natives, creating a new set of neural connections and engaging young brains in an unprecedented way. With their brains thus wired, Millennials might be using the web as a vehicle for sophisticated thinking and higher-order cognition. And they might be even more mentally engaged while online than their elders are while reading a book.

I don’t doubt Googling and other digital activities that vie for our attention are changing our brain circuitry.  But there is scant evidence that today’s “continuous partial attention” is making us smarter.  The fact is we need focused attention and a broad base of knowledge before we can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

January 9, 2013

Quick Links – Top-paying jobs for community college graduates; no mandate relief in New York; high salary for high school principal; plus more

by Grace

◊◊◊ Top ten jobs for two-year graduates (Community College Spotlight)

The top job is an air traffic controller,with a median 2010 salary of $108,040.

ALBANY, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Mandate Relief Council voted down 51 of 65 requests for help from local governments and school districts Tuesday, approving 14 suggestions for review of state mandates for special education and two other school issues….

The Council also recommended further study of a request to drop the state mandate for school districts with fewer than 1,000 pupils to have internal auditors on staff; and a state Education Department rule that mandates students get a “minimum number of minutes per week (seat time), by grade level and subject area.”

Requests to reduce the crippling pension costs were among those that were rejected.

They rejected requests to reduce the mandate to transport private school students; to reform teacher tenure and “last in, first out” work rules; to change the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law that keeps automatic teacher pay raises in place after a contract has expired; and to reduce the cost of public employee and teacher pensions. The requests included letting school districts create pension reserve funds, but that was rejected because it was an expansion of district authority, not a state mandate.

Also rejected were local government requests regarding the Wicks public works contracting law, health insurance contributions, restrictions on new unfunded mandates, tax cap exemptions, legal services for the poor and the MTA commuter tax.

Staff of the panel said that the rejected requests were beyond the scope and the authority of the council to decide because they were matters of state law, covered by local union contracts, or otherwise not a qualified candidate for elimination or reform.

I believe a constitutional amendment is needed to reduce pension costs, one of the most costly state mandates.  If that’s the case, the Council could have made that recommendation.  You can see a copy of the full report at the Mandate Relief Council site.

New York’s highest-salaried school principal, James Ruck, who has led Harrison High since 2006, will earn $245,728 this year, setting a new standard for a building administrator in the nation’s hottest market for education leaders.

Ruck, 68, the former schools superintendent at Suffolk County’s Sachem Central schools, augments his Harrison pay with an estimated $131,352 a year in pension payments, pushing his annual income to more than $377,000. Ruck, of Northport, intends to step down from Harrison in June

About 1,000 students attend Harrison High School.


◊◊◊
  ‘Motivation, Not IQ, Matters Most for Learning New Math Skills’ (Time)

But IQ does matter in overall math achievement levels.

… While some element of math achievement may be linked to natural inborn intelligence, when it comes to developing skills during high school, motivation and math study habits are much more important than IQ, according to a new study…

To their surprise, the researches found that IQ does not predict new learning — in other words, intelligence as measured by the IQ test does not indicate how likely students are to pick up new concepts or accumulate new skills. While children with higher IQs did have higher test scores from the beginning of the study, how much newmaterial the kids learned over the years was not related to how smart they were, at least not once demographic factors were taken into account.

“Students with high IQ have high math achievement and students with low IQ have low math achievement,” Murayama says. “But IQ does not predict any growth in math achievement. It determines the starting point.”

March 23, 2012

‘Exploding pension costs are the single biggest threat to local government’s ability to deliver needed services’

by Grace

It’s an issue that Democrats, Republicans and independents agree on: controlling skyrocketing pensions.

Politicians representing diverse constituencies are united under the umbrella of New York Leaders for Pension Reform, a group whose goal is cutting pension costs.  Members include New York City Michael Bloomberg, New Rochelle Mayor Noam Branson, and Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

“Exploding pension costs are the single biggest threat to local government’s ability to deliver needed services,” Astorino said in a statement released by the group Wednesday. “It will be impossible to provide any real property tax relief while operating under these debilitating labor costs that automatically increase every year at an unsustainable rate.”

In a small step to remedy this pension problem, last week Governor Cuomo won passage of Tier 6 reform legislation that he grandly labeled a sweeping pension reform plan that will save state and local governments and New York City more than $80 billion over the next 30 years.

Not so fast.

E.J. McMahon writing in The Torch calls Cuomo’s grandiose claims hyperbole, especially because taxpayers will see no benefit anytime soon since the changes only affect new employees.  And the “billions” in savings are based on the assumption that the Tier 6 structure remains unchanged for 30 years, a highly unlikely scenario.

Even using Coumo’s assumptions, New York City will only save 6% off the projected $359 billion in pension contributions over the next 30 years.  Clearly, this legislation only puts a small dent in the skyrocketing public pension costs that are eroding educational opportunities for New York children.  I foresee no change in time to help my child who is attending a public school where pension costs have risen more than 50% over the last two years and now account for 7.2% of the total budget, up from 5.1% in 2010-11.

The fundamental flaw in New York’s public pension system remains unresolved: like similar systems across the country, it exposes taxpayers to massive open-ended financial risks.  Pension accounting is incredibly arcane and opaque, setting up a proven moral hazard for elected officials who customarily have little regard for long-term consequences.  Unfortunately, the governor did not address this problem, or even acknowledge it.

You can read the entire LoHud.com article after the break.

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