After an unusual state budget process that included a mid-session change in Assembly leadership and preliminary school aid data that was withheld from school districts by the Governor, the North Colonie Central School District expects an estimated $1,316,878 increase in state funding over the current year as part of the final state budget approved by the State Legislature. This increase includes a one-time Full Day Kindergarten conversion aid of $611,000. To receive the increase, legislators approving the budget are requiring that the district retool its teacher evaluation plan – known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) – under a new set of undetermined rules. The plan must be approved by the State Education Department by November 15.
“Budgets are more than just allocations of dollars,” said Superintendent Joseph Corr. “They represent public policies that require implementation. Tying the teach evaluation system to budget approval and subsequent state funding of education remains a problem. A “sticks and carrots” approach to evaluation is highly questionable in terms of improving teacher quality. We have many examples of states and countries which have tried such an approach and have found it to produce negative or negligible results. On the other hand, systems which have provided teachers with opportunities for professional support and collaboration are highly successful. We can look to nations such as Finland and Singapore as shining examples as a non-punitive approach. Although the Governor and some members of the legislature have proclaimed otherwise, the implementation of this mandate will require additional resources on the part of the district. Overall, I believe it to be a step backwards and not conducive to promoting positive and progressive education policy in New York State.”
North Colonie’s 8.75 percent year-to-year increase, approved as part of a $150 billion state spending plan for 2015-16, is exclusive of building aid, which is paid to the school districts by the state for capital improvement costs already incurred. When factoring in the Full Day Kindergarten conversion aid, the district’s year to year increase is 3.92 percent.
The amount includes a $1,082,195 restoration of the Gap Elimination Adjustment – or GEA. This represents a partial restoration of the amount that has been deducted annually from the district’s promised state aid since 2010. The GEA has been used as a way to help the state balance its budget. Statewide, nearly $10 billion in school aid has been removed from districts since the GEA was introduced. Legislators have agreed to end the GEA permanently in 2016-17.
“Although the GEA restoration of over one million dollars represents good news for North Colonie, half of our GEA still remains. We hope that there is continued commitment on the part of the state of New York to entirely eliminate the gap.”
The final 2015-16 state budget, approved just before 3 a.m. on April 1, included some elements of the education reform measures championed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Most hotly debated among the reforms were mandated requirements that will require every school district in the state to negotiate a new version of the APPR for the evaluation of teachers and principals. This will be the fourth APPR plan in five years for school districts and the second time in recent years that school aid will be linked to the state’s approval of a local system for rating teacher effectiveness. A similar approach was used in the 2012-13 state budget to incentivize school districts to meet APPR state mandates.
Legislators approving the state budget have assigned the State Education Department (SED) to be in charge of overhauling the new APPR evaluations. It is believed the system will retain a similar scale used now for rating teachers, known as a four-tiered HEDI scale: Highly Effective; Effective; Developing and Ineffective. There was no language contained in the approved budget bills that defines exactly how a teacher/principal effectiveness rating will be determined, though it will be based, in most cases, on two determining factors: student performance on assessments and classroom observations.
The state will assume a much greater role in determining teacher effectiveness than under the current system. Student performance will be reflected in growth scores based on state assessments, state-determined Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) and other “optional” assessments that must be approved by the State Education Department, according to some of the details contained in the bill. Classroom observations must be conducted by both the building principal and an “independent” evaluator. North Colonie will be analyzing the details of the new APPR rules as they become available and reviewing the state budget to determine its short- and long-term impact on the district.
The following is a brief overview of the state budget as it pertains to education in New York:
• State aid – The 2015-16 state budget includes a $1.3 billion year-to-year increase in aid to school districts statewide. Local aid increases are tied to new APPR teacher evaluation plans. A district must have a plan approved by November 15, 2015, in order to receive any increase in aid over 2014-15. The Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA) has been partially reduced in 2015-16 and is scheduled to end in 2016-17.
• Teacher evaluations – The New York State Education Department will oversee the latest overhaul of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) for teachers and principals. There will be two components to teacher evaluations: student performance on assessments and classroom observations. The value assigned to each component has not been determined. The budget also establishes strict new rules for educators who are rated “ineffective” in two or more consecutive years.
• Teacher tenure – The probationary period for teachers and principals is increased from three years to four years. Teachers must have effectiveness ratings of either “Highly Effective” or “Effective” in three out of the four years to qualify for tenure. A teacher or principal who is rated “Ineffective” in year four cannot be granted tenure, but can have the probationary term extended by one year.
• Underperforming schools – The budget sets a timeline for schools that are deemed “chronically underperforming” to improve or face consequences. Districts would be required to have improvement plans approved by the State Education Department and meet objectives contained within the plan. Schools would have one or two years to demonstrate improvement depending on how long it has been underperforming. Failure to show improvement could result in a school being put into receivership, with control of the school being handed over to a state-designated non-profit.