Mayor’s funding priorities leave him open to strong criticism on education
By Nick Powell
Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined his preliminary budget for fiscal year 2014 last Tuesday, emphasizing that the budget will be balanced without any tax increases. But what stood out was the glaring loss of $724 million in state education funding over the next two years, a consequence of the lack of progress over negotiating a teacher evaluation plan with the United Federation of Teachers.
The $250 million loss this year will be reflected in immediate cuts to child care and after-school programs, and would result in a loss of up to 700 teachers through attrition. The city will forfeit $250 million in aid in the next fiscal year too, plus another $224 million in the state executive budget if the two sides do not reach an agreement by Sept. 1, meaning another 1,800 teachers could be lost through attrition.
State Education Commissioner John King recently wrote to Bloomberg that he plans to baseline that $250 million loss for the next four years—resulting in a potential four-year loss of roughly $1 billion in state education funding—if discussions between the city and the teachers union remain stalled.
Bloomberg said the city was spending $8 billion more per year on education than when he first took office, and while the state’s education aid has plateaued in the last four fiscal years around the $19-21 billion range, it has also generally increased from 2002-03, when the state spent $14.6 billion. Still, the mayor accused the state of turning its back on the city’s children by imposing the school aid penalties.
“We’re not walking away from education in spite of the fact that I would argue the state’s walking away from us,” Bloomberg said.
Later, in a testy exchange with a reporter, he remarked that the one-year teacher evaluation agreements that 99 percent of the state’s school districts have signed are a “sham” and a “joke” because they violate state law that requires a two-year period to evaluate a teacher. He added that Gov. Andrew Cuomo “can’t just snap his fingers” to make the school districts agree to another teacher evaluation deal after this year.
However, the mayor said that he would happily take the $250 million in education aid should he be able to reach a deal with the teachers union in the coming days. The mayor left open the possibility of coming to an agreement, but hardly sounded optimistic.
“I said from day one, we can come to an agreement with them, we talk every day,” Bloomberg said. “But fundamentally you’re asking a union to let its members be evaluated, and discriminate, and have distinctions based on productivity rather than based on seniority, and essentially unions have always been opposed to that, but we’ll see.”
Meanwhile, UFT President Michael Mulgrew testified in front of the Legislature on Tuesday, where legislators grilled him on the failed teacher evaluation agreement. Mulgrew continued to blame Bloomberg and education officials for not negotiating in good faith.
“We had 40 plans from different cities during negotiations, and they were not interested in copying another city’s plan,” Mulgrew said.
Despite the lack of progress on a deal, Mulgrew said he reached out to Bloomberg to set up a future negotiation date, but that has not been scheduled yet.
In addition to the loss in state education aid, $135 million will be cut from after-school and child care programs that service more than 47,000 children, many from low-income families. The specter of this cut, among others, set off angry responses from child care advocates.
“Just like last year, 47,000 children are set to lose access to after-school and early education programs—programs proven to help children succeed while parents work to support their families,” said Michelle Yanche, assistant executive director for government and external relations at Good Shepherd Services, on behalf of the Campaign for Children, a coalition of child care advocacy groups. “The same parents and providers will be forced to fight for the same funding that they were just given a few months ago. How can this be happening, after all we’ve heard from our city leaders about making children a priority?”
With reporting by Aaron Short. A version of this story originally appeared on the
website of City & State, cityandstateny.com.
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