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NY Regents Propose Teacher-Licensing Board

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New York--The New York State Board of Regents has endorsed a number of legislative proposals aimed at improving the quality and performance of teachers in the state.

The 16-member policy-making board meeting here also proposed that the state increase its aid to elementary and secondary schools by $524.9 million (or 13 percent) for the 1982-83 school year. Much of that money would be directed to poorer school districts in the state under a new and controversial school-finance formula that was also endorsed by the regents.

For the third consecutive year, the regents have decided to resubmit to the State Legislature a series of bills designed to establish teaching as a state-recognized profession. The bills would:

Define the practice of teaching, provide for a State Board of Teaching (which would serve as a licensing body), define unprofessional conduct in teaching, and establish professional discipline procedures and penalties.

Appropriate state funds for the establishment of internships for newly employed teachers and administrators in public schools.

Provide funding for the development of state tests for certification of teachers and administrators, for in-service education of public-school teachers and administrators, and for state monitoring of local school district reviews of teacher and administrator performance.

Elevating teaching to the status of a legally recognized profession, says State Commissioner of Education Gordon M. Ambach, "has a direct payoff in terms of heightened recognition for teachers. It would allow us to attract new and higher-quality candidates into teaching in the state."

However, the proposal has drawn stiff opposition from both the state's major teachers' union and its school boards' association. And the idea has failed to attract many supporters in the legislature, which rejected similar legislation in each of its last two sessions.

Opposition to Licensing Board

New York State United Teachers, which represents nearly 90 percent of the classroom teachers in the state, and the New York State School Boards Association both object to the creation of a licensing board, but for opposing reasons.

The teachers' group refuses to endorse the board without assurances that it will be controlled by practicing teachers. The school boards association, asserting that teachers are public employees, wants assurances that the board will not be dominated by teachers. The question of the composition of the board has not been resolved, state education department officials say.

A teachers' union official also cited the cost of the "teaching-as-a-profession" legislation--estimated by the state education department at $33 million in the first full year--as a reason for his organization's opposition to it.

Regarding the $524.9-million increase in state education aid proposed by the regents, Mr. Ambach said the sum is needed to achieve the board's goals of increasing the state's share of total public-school expenditures, reducing the disparity between the amount of money spent on public education in school districts in the state, and easing pressure on local property taxes.

The proposed increase would bring the total state aid budget to just over $4.5 billion in the 1982-83 school year, and would raise the state share of public education financing from 39 percent to 40 percent. In 1970, the state's share was 50 percent, according to the regents' vice chancellor, J. Edward Meyer.

Under the new financing plan adopted by the regents, 191 districts would lose $48 million, and 488 districts would get an additional $550 million in state aid, according to state education department figures.

Some districts would lose state money, Mr. Ambach said, because the board's new plan would phase out, over a four-year period, the state's so-called "flat grant" and "save harmless" provisions. These now prevent the awarding of less state education aid to any district than it received the previous year, regardless of shifts in enrollment.

This proposal to equalize district-by-district expenditures by reducing state aid to wealthydistricts has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters.

Mr. Meyer said it is unfair to place districts in a position of having to increase taxes to maintain present standards. He was one of two regents who voted against the financing plan approved by the board.

James V. Vetro, assistant executive director of the state school boards association, said his organization is opposed to the so-called "leveling-down" formula and will lobby against the abolition of the two provisions.

Raising Spending Levels

Assemblyman Leonard P. Stavisky, chairman of the State Assembly Education Committee, said that he will support the regents' proposal for a 13-percent increase in state education aid, but he added that he would prefer a plan that would not reduce aid to any districts, but rather would seek to bring spending levels in poorer districts up to those in wealthier ones.

Regent Meyer said this "leveling up" method of equalizing school expenditure, if accomplished through state aid, would cost the state $1 billion a year.

Mr. Stavisky predicted that the regents proposed aid increases and "leveling down" distribution formula will face strong opposition in the state legislature next year.

Constitution Violated

Last month, the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court in Brookyln declared that the current system of financing public schools, which relies to a great extent on local property taxes, violated the State Constitution by discriminating against districts with low property values.

The regents also recommended that state aid be based half on pupil attendance and half on enrollment, instead of solely on the basis of attendance, as is now the case. Commissioner Ambach said that such a move would be more equitable to large cities in the state, where attendance is lower. Assemblyman Stavisky said he supports this proposal.

Among other recommendations being forwarded by the regents to Gov. Hugh L. Carey and the legislature are several bills designed to counter what state education officials describe as a "severe" shortage of science and mathematics teachers.

Teacher Scholarships

These measures include the establishment of state-funded, com-petitive undergraduate and graduate scholarships for prospective teachers of elementary and secondary mathematics and science, and the creation of mathematics- and science-teaching "consultantships" in school districts throughout the state.

(These consultants would be selected by the state education department from among the practicing mathematics and science teachers in the state, and would develop new programs, offer in-service training, and improve curricula in school districts throughout the state.)

Danger of Severe Shortages

The cost of these two programs is estimated by state education officials to be $1 million.

Addressing the need for legislation to recruit science and mathematics teachers, Mr. Ambach said, "Competition from business and industry is so severe, and salary levels in the private sector are so attractive that we are in great danger of having severe shortages."

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