New York’s top education policymakers are gearing up to discuss their legislative wishlist for next year’s session, just as the political balance of the state legislature could turn on its head.
The state’s Board of Regents will kick off the discussion Monday by reviewing last year’s priorities — everything from bullying prevention programs to expanding access to advanced coursework — and propose tweaks and additions.
They’ll also discuss what to prioritize in their overall funding request for education across the state (the board has not yet requested a specific dollar amount). Last year the Board asked for a $1.6 billion increase, which is less than the $1 billion boost that was ultimately approved. But the if the state Senate, which has been controlled by Republicans for years, flips to Democrats, it could reshape the annual budget dance just as it kicks into gear.
Also on the Regents agenda: a discussion of state test scores that were released late last month. However, state officials have repeatedly said the results do not offer much insight about whether student learning is improving across the state because of changes to the test that make results hard to compare to previous years.
Here’s what you should know in advance of the meeting.
Officials are set to discuss last year’s legislative priorities and how close they got to their goals.
One priority from that cycle, for instance, was to address the yawning gap in access to advanced coursework in different school districts across the state, a top concern of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as well. Among wealthy suburban school districts, students were roughly five times as likely to have access to six or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate offerings as students in New York City, according to a report released earlier this year. (The city is also launching a pilot program to allow virtual classes in advanced subjects at 15 high schools in the Bronx, under the new teachers contract.)
The Regents requested $3 million in grants to help expand offerings among high-needs districts, and wound up with $500,000, according to state documents. (Though the board doesn’t have any formal power over the legislature, they can help sway the outcome as the state’s top education policymaking body.)
They’ll also discuss a slew of other priorities, including how to support new intervention plans for New York’s lowest-performing schools that were developed as part of the state’s compliance with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
And the Regents will talk about progress on their efforts to support English learners; they have previously asked for funding to translate Regents exams into Spanish so students can better demonstrate skills beyond their proficiency in English.
Other issues, beyond these priorities, may surface in discussions Monday as well.
The board isn’t expected to approve a full set of legislative goals until December, and it’s possible that a wave election could give Democrats control of the State Senate. Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa previously told Chalkbeat said she hopes “the combination of the Assembly and the Senate will create leverage” in the budget process, a dynamic she hopes will lead to more funding.
Many of the Regents’ priorities — more support for vulnerable students, additional social services in schools, and other initiatives — would require significant additional investments.
State and local education officials have said it’s impossible to compare the newly released results on the state English and math exams to last year’s because the test was changed — it’s administered over just two days instead of three — but several lingering issues could surface.
In New York City, there are still significant score gaps between white and black students. Almost 67 percent of white students passed their English tests, close to double the percentage of black students. And almost 64 percent of white students passed math, compared to about a quarter of black students.
And even though Regents reduced the number of testing days, opposition to the exams continued, with about the same percentage of New York students deciding to opt out as did the previous year. In New York City, where most kids usually take the test, there was a slight uptick in students who sat out.
This comes after the state agreed to soften certain penalties for schools where opt-out rates remained consistently high.
Some Regents remain committed to computer-based testing, and the state hopes to eventually expand the practice to all students. Some are concerned about the nature of the exams, whether they are fair to English language learners, and whether the tests help perpetuate disparities.
State education officials have shown some interest in different approaches to testing. Regents decided not to apply for a federal waiver to pursue “innovative” exams — involving essays, projects, and tasks — but they did form a work group that is partially focusing on testing.