This past week, New York Governor David Paterson proposed $686 million in mid-year cuts in state aid to public schools. While New York clearly continues to face challenging fiscal and economic times, the cuts -- unaccompanied by any education reforms whatsoever -- underscore that Paterson remains AWOL on educational issues.
In 2007, then newly elected Governor Eliot Spitzer laid out a sweeping educational vision, settled the state's long-simmering fiscal-equity lawsuit, doubled the number of authorized charter schools, and pushed through serious accountability measures.
In contrast, since taking office as governor, Paterson has yet to articulate an educational vision. His most significant education proposals have revolved around student access to snack foods, reflecting his wife's concern about student obesity and broader health issues.
Earlier this year, the governor signed an extension of mayoral control of New York City's schools, but frankly the final agreement on this issue resulted from a deal struck directly between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- negotiations that left the governor on the sidelines.
On charter schools, the governor's only significant action has been to freeze charter school per pupil aid, at the same time that aid to school districts rose slightly. His later promise to reverse this freeze and restore $30 million in charter-school funding remains a mere promise.
The governor's failure to lead on educational issues is surprising -- indeed, very surprising. As a state Senator and Senate Democratic Leader, Paterson was articulate and passionate about educational issues. And, although he opposed charter schools when the law was adopted in 1998, since then, he had become an enthusiastic supporter of these alternative schools.
Paterson's current lack of leadership on educational issues is even more striking when compared with President Barack Obama's gutsy leadership on education -- in the midst of dealing with much more serious distractions than faced by Paterson.
Also, Obama's Race to the Top grant competition has provided some governors with a platform to drive educational reforms within their states.
Governor Schwarzenegger -- facing fiscal challenges even greater than New York's -- still nonetheless proposed sweeping educational reforms in response to Race to the Top. Educational reforms also are being pursued in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Tennessee and other states.
In New York, however, not a single significant educational reform is being pushed by the Governor. Indeed, even the state's response to Race to the Top is being handled by others. Tellingly, the state Board of Regents and the new state education commissioner (the latter selected by the legislatively appointed Regents, not the governor) are formulating the state's response.
Everyone understands that the governor must give priority to the state's fiscal crisis, but Paterson should not ignore educational issues.
Consider just a few issues that simmer while the governor fails to act. The state is in clear violation of a state court of appeals fiscal-equity decision calling for more funding for city schools. Across the state, hundreds of thousands of students are consigned each year to failing schools. Several hundred million dollars in federal Race to the Top funds are at risk because of inaction on key issues. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams show virtually no progress on raising the state's student achievement levels. And, an extraordinarily large racial achievement gap persists.
All in all, not a time for standing still.
Without any further delay, Governor Paterson should step up and lay out a clear and compelling vision for how he would ensure that every child in New York is guaranteed a quality education.
Thomas W. Carroll may be followed at www.twitter.com/nyedreform.
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