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In New York: Bold Plan Ties State Aid to Improved Teaching

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In an unusual and controversial move, the New York State Board of Regents has approved a budget proposal that would require school districts to use 1986-87 increases in operating aid solely for the purposes of raising teacher salaries and hiring additional teachers.

The proposal is the first of its kind for the powerful New York board. States traditionally shy away from earmarking operating aid for specific purposes, leaving allocation decisions up to local boards of education, according to education-policy analysts.

Because it raises questions of state authority versus local control, the proposal immediately sparked controversy. It has 6won the support of the New York State United Teachers, the state's largest teachers' union, but it has been roundly criticized by the organizations representing the state's local school boards.

And spokesmen for the legislature's Assembly and Senate education committees say that while they applaud the regents' emphasis on compensation for teachers, they expect many legislators to oppose the spending directive.

In addition, a spokesman for the Assembly education committee said, the regents' proposal may in fact be "too vague" because it does not specify how the money to be spent on teacher salaries should be allocated by each district.

But while there is considerable disagreement about specifics, officials on all sides of the debate--including Gordon M. Ambach, the state education commissioner--agree that the need to attract, retain, and reward teachers has assumed critical importance in the state's two-year-old education-reform program.

"We give the regents high marks for facing up to the worst crisis we've ever had," said Stephen K. Allinger, director of the Assembly's education committee. "All of our reform efforts will go down the drain if we can't find and keep the teachers."

The Regents' Proposal

The regents' plan, passed unanimously at their Nov. 14 meeting, calls for a $679 million increase in overall spending for schools; that represents an 11.3 percent hike from the current $5.8-billion state education budget.

The proposal provides that $439 million--or nearly 65 percent of the total increase--be earmarked for programs to strengthen teaching. About $251 million of the earmarked increase is in operating aid; individual districts would have discretion over how they spend these added operating funds, as long as the expenditures are for compensating or hiring teachers.

The remaining $188 million of the earmarked increase is targeted by the regents to such specific programs as: $16 million for a first-year-teacher mentor/internship program; $26.7 million for $2,500 sti-pends for summer courses or graduate study for beginning teachers; $11.9 million for stipends of up to $4,000 for "career" teachers pursuing advanced full-time study in their teaching field; and $60.5 mil-lion in other teacher-development funds--to be distributed to districts via an equalization formula--for credit and noncredit college coursework, inservice training, and curriculum-development projects.

The regents' 1986-87 proposal follows three years of significant education-aid increases in the state, totaling approximately $1.5 billion. The growth in part reflects efforts to put in place the state's "Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education Results in New York State."

The action plan--a comprehensive, long-term reform agenda approved by the regents in 1984--includes increased requirements in mathematics, science, and foreign languages; instructional requirements for grades 7 and 8; and comprehensive testing of student performance.

In announcing the state-aid pro-posal, the regents said their emphasis on strengthening teaching was the next logical step in New York's education-reform efforts. The boardto target the operating-aid increase to teacher salaries and teacher hiring to emphasize to districts the critical importance of attracting and retaining qualified teachers, state education officials say.

"The regents were seeking to emphasize the important investment that must be made in entry and retention of a qualified teaching force in New York State," said Robert Maurer, executive deputy commissioner of education. "It is the crucial issue in the minds of the regents regarding the quality of education in our state now and for the future."

Local Control

Mr. Maurer argued that the targeted aid increase would leave school districts with "a great deal of discretion" in how they attracted and rewarded teachers, by comparison with teacher-assistance proposals developed by other states.

"Some states have been very specific in their approach to salary issues or class size, mandating statewide solutions" such as minimum salary levels or master-teacher programs, he noted.

But in New York, he said, such mandates would be inappropriate because of "the size and diversity of the school system," whose more than 700 districts include approximately 400 rural districts and New York City, the nation's largest school district.

The regents' proposal, he said, was the "best way to set a broad statewide policy agenda and a goal of increased teacher compensation and lower class sizes, without interfering with the exercise of local control and judgment."

Local officials, however, say they oppose the Regents' plan, primarily because they believe it substantially erodes their authority.

"There are inflationary trends that naturally occur throughout a school system," pointed out Jacqueline Freedman, executive director of the Conference of Large City Boards of Education, which represents the state's five largest school districts: Buffalo, New York, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers.

"What we receive in operating aid should be up to the school districts to decide how to spend," she contended. "The regents have taken away a great deal of local control under the action plan, and now they are going one step further. That's unconscionable."

Louis Grumet, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, concurred that the plan unfairly limits local school districts, some of which, he said, may be experiencing "other severe problems," such as asbestos-removal costs or soaring liability-insurance premiums.

"The reason we have local school boards is to determine that type of resource allocation," he said.

'Compartmentalizing' Aid

Mr. Allinger, the Assembly education committee director, said he applauded the plan's emphasis on teaching. But he predicted that the Assembly would "probably reject" the aid requirement, both because it restricts local control and because "we shouldn't start compartmentalizing the operating-aid formula."

Last year's Assembly education-aid package stressed teacher-remuneration measures, including funds for salary increases "that made a measurable difference in the district's ability to recruit committed teachers," Mr. Allinger said.

But the measure failed to pass both legislative houses because the Senate's emphasis at that time was on "teacher-improvement issues" rather than salary increases, he said. This year, Mr. Allinger said, both houses of the legislature are more convinced of the importance of including teacher-salary aid in the 1986-87 budget, which must be passed by March 31.

"A lot of the reform plan's higher standards are absolutely meaningless without qualified teachers," he said.

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