Now that school is out and students, parents, teachers, and school officials have a brief break, I thought it would be a good time to update everyone on the significant steps taken this year in Albany in regard to education.
As a member of the senate education committee, I focus a great deal of time and effort in making sure the needs of our schools are met, and that tools are in place to help make sure every child has the opportunity to succeed.
Each year, a major portion of the state budget debate centers around education aid. This year was no different. I am pleased to say that major funding increases to help our neediest schools were part of the final plan. A few of the highlights include:
A total of more than $25 billion in new education funding – an increase of more than $1.1 billion over last year. This is more than a five-percent boost in funding, by far the largest increase of any major component in the entire budget;
A full restoration of funding for teacher centers, helping to ensure skilled, well-qualified educators will be there to guide our students;
Record funding to increase full day pre-K opportunities at local option; and
A new Smart Schools Bond Act, which will empower voters to make new investments in school technology upgrades.
Another prime focus during the education budget debate centered on the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) which is causing major financial stress for many area school districts. I voted against the GEA when it was first imposed in 2010 because I knew it was a multi-year, budget-cutting gimmick that would slash school aid by $2.8 billion. Letters, calls, and e-mails to my office since the GEA was first imposed have made it clear that erasing it has to be a priority.
This year’s budget reduces the GEA by $602 million, by far the single largest reduction in this unfair school aid cut since it was implemented. This final number is 86-percent more than the $323 million the governor originally proposed, and far more than the modest $43 million that the assembly leadership offered to add to the governor’s budget.
I also lead the push to address the extremely flawed rollout and implementation of the Common Core standards. The State Education Department failed miserably in communicating with the key stakeholders – parents, teachers, and school administrators – and caused a great deal of anxiety and unease for students. Real changes were needed and actions taken include:
No standardized tests for students in pre-kindergarten through grade two;
State assessment scores for grades three through eight will not be part of a student’s permanent record;
School districts cannot make student promotion of placement decisions solely on the state-administered assessment tests for grades three through eight;
Limits are placed on the instructional hours devoted to state assessment tests, locally developed standardized tests, and test preparation;
New privacy protections regarding personally identifiable information;
Outreach materials for parents and families will be developed;
Enhanced training programs for teachers and principals.
These steps, along with important initiatives to help improve our colleges, and help middle class families and students afford the cost of higher education, will together go a long way toward assisting our young people prepare for their future.
Our state is blessed with great schools and teachers at all levels and our students are receiving a top-notch education. It is my goal to not only help our young people reach their educational goals, but to also offer them real opportunities to practice what they’ve learned here at home. That’s why other goals that I am working toward – cutting taxes, providing new job creation tools for small business, and offering real mandate relief – must also be priorities in Albany.