Saturday, December 17, 2011

Be the Change for Kids, Part 1

Spent all day Saturday in Syracuse at a session entitled "The Canary in the Coal Mine or the Elephant in the Room: New York State's Approach to Funding High Needs Schools." Speakers included David Wakelyn, the newly appointed Deputy Secretary for Education in NYS, formerly senior policy analyst at the National Governor's Association; Ken Slentz, Deputy Commissioner for K–12 Education at State Ed; and Michael Rubell of Columbia University, head of the legal team that won the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against the state. Conducting breakout sessions were Tom Rogers, District Superintendent at the Nassau BOCES; David Little, NY State School Board Association Director of Government Relations; and Rick Timbs, head of the State School Finance Consortium. In the audience were a couple of hundred board members and superintendents.

There was a lot said, but I will start by saying that we went away with absolutely no action plan, except that we should write to the governor and corral our state senators. I'll start with the word from the two state reps.

Wakelyn pointed out that since 2003, students in all states have taken the NAEP, a national test of basic academics, so that we have some data across time. Over the decade since the test was instituted, education spending in NYS has increased by 74%, but achievement has slipped. The taxpayers, says Wakelyn, want the government to be more effective. We should be more like Massachusetts, which has far better results. Although we spend an average of $18K per student, even southern poor schools outperform ours.

Wakelyn wants schools to consider per-student costs of everything we buy, from busing to AP courses. What makes sense to keep?

Questioners asked Wakelyn about mandates in other states. He suggested that we start assessing unit costs (per pupil costs) of mandates and letting the governor's office know. Questioners pointed out that upstate schools spend a good deal less than $18K per student. What if we included all districts in a statewide health plan? (That's one of Paul's brainstorms.) Should the state take over all contracts so that districts no longer compete?

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