Mon, Mar 17, 2008
Paterson Inherits Budget Issues as N.Y. Governor
By Michele McNeil, Education Week
New York Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson, who is to be sworn in today as the governor of New York in the wake of his predecessorâs resignation, is scheduled to take charge at one of the most pivotal times of the year for public schools: state budget negotiations.
On the same day last week that Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, announced his resignation a little more than a year into his first term, the New York Assembly and Senate released their versions of the one-year state budget amid a projected $4 billion deficit.
Gov. Spitzerâs $81.8 billion budget proposal had included an additional $1.46 billion for education, which would bring total K-12 spending for fiscal 2009 to $21 billion. But advocates had criticized that proposal for falling $350 million short of earlier promises.
The state is supposed to have a budget done by April 1; frequently, the process takes longer. Hammering out the budget details, including how much money to allocate to schools and how to plug the budget hole, now falls to Mr. Paterson.
Those budget decisions will be made in a charged environment thatâs been rocked by a sex scandal involving Mr. Spitzer and the sudden political demise of a governor known as the âsheriff of Wall Streetâ for his pursuit of public-corruption cases when he was state attorney general.
Mr. Paterson, a Democrat and former state legislator who is legally blind, will be the countryâs second currently serving African-American governor. And Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Republican who often had tangled with Gov. Spitzer, will assume the duties of the lieutenant governor in accordance with the state constitution.
âThis couldnât be a more difficult time,â said Richard C. Iannuzzi, the president of the New York State United Teachers, a 590,000-member affiliate of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. âUnder Governor Spitzer, we were beginning to make some real progress in addressing educational equity. Now, with a $4 billion deficit and this kind of political uncertainty, we could probably be facing a setback.â
Early on, he tapped Manuel Rivera, the former Rochester, N.Y., superintendent, to be his chief education adviser, and Mr. Rivera backed out of a decision to take the superintendentâs job in Boston to assume that post. Even before Mr. Spitzerâs most recent troubles became public, Mr. Rivera was being courted for a top position with Los Angeles Unified School District, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Mr. Spitzer had been praised for increasing the cap on charter schools in New York to 200 from 100, which advocates had tried to accomplish for years. But by far his most difficult task was school funding.
During his firstâand essentially onlyâyear in office, Mr. Spitzer had responsibility for bringing state school funding levels into compliance after years of court rulings that had declared them unconstitutional and inadequate. He was making progress by securing more funding in the 2008 budget year. And he also crafted a âContracts for Excellenceâ plan that attached strings, and accountability, to additional money for schools. ("Tighter Link Sought Between Spending, Achievement in N.Y.," Sept. 5, 2007.)
But more recently, Mr. Spitzer had taken some heat for proposing a budget that education advocates said didn't provide enough additional money for schools.
âGovernor Spitzer gets a lot of credit for increasing school funding, but unfortunately he did not live up to that promise,â said Geri Palast, the executive director of the New York City-based Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which waged a decade-long battle in the state courts to get more funding for schools, particularly in New York City.
She said sheâs also encouraged because Mr. Paterson, who represented Harlem in New York City as a state lawmaker, supported the CFE lawsuit and the quest for more money for the stateâs public schools.
Teachers union officials also expressed hope that Mr. Spitzerâs departure will mean an end to his plan to cap property taxes for schools, a pledge he unveiled in January as a means to curtail the growth of school spending and property taxes on homeowners. He had just created a seven-member commission, which had subpoena powers, to devise a way to cap school property taxes.
âHe drew some battle lines there,â Mr. Iannuzzi said. âI would expect Governor Paterson to bring some fresh perspective.â
Public school advocates donât expect to hear much from Mr. Paterson on his education agenda while heâs embroiled in budget negotiations. He is known, however, to be a champion for students with disabilities. According to news reports, Mr. Patersonâs family moved out of New York City when he was a child because the cityâs schools could not guarantee him an education without putting him in special education classes.
Also, Mr. Paterson has been a supporter of charter schools, and in a 2006 New York Observer story, earned praised from voucher advocate Clint Bolick for being a friend of school choice. However, Mr. Paterson has also said that while he supports the idea of choice, he's not particularly keen on some tactics of the school choice movement.
Vol. 27, Issue 28; Published Online: March 17, 2008
Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the stateâs responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >