Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon's Statement on the New State Budget

While there is some good news in this year's state budget, the final result was far less than legislators like myself worked towards. In the end my colleagues and I in the Assembly made the best of a set of terrible budget options. 

We were successful in pushing back on the Governor's proposal, which painted with too broad a brush, demonized teachers and sacrificed student learning on the altar of invalid standardized tests.  From my experience, what was missing from the Governor's proposal were the very things that make education work.  

 

The budget adopted by the Senate and Assembly and signed by the Governor no longer links teacher performance evaluations to standardized test scores and outside evaluators.  That is a step in the right direction because these have no connection to schools or the dynamics that make for good teaching and good schools.  Instead teacher evaluations - which are already a matter of law - will be done according to a mix of factors.  These include local assessments and multiple measures of learning, albeit not the universe of  those I would have preferred.

 

Importantly, the budget puts the awesome responsibility for implementing these education proposals where they constitutionally belong - with the NYS Board of Regents, not the Governor or the legislature.  I am heartened by the addition of new Regents who have real-life, on the ground experience teaching, running schools and school systems.

 

The new state budget increases education funding by $1.6 billon, provides additional funds to persistently struggling schools and gives them time to prepare and plan for success. Overall, 68.5% of the aid will go to high-needs districts; 25.7% to average-need districts; and 5.8% to low-need districts, which is good news for our schools in New York City, 70% of whose schools are high needs.

 

The budget opens the doors to increased pre-K for children throughout the state - which we know is critically important to student outcomes. It includes a $30 million increase in pre-K funding for 3- and 4-year- olds and protects last year's pre-K investment for New York City. It provides additional funding to those schools that educate our most vulnerable children with severe disabilities, and significant funding for NYCHA.

 

As a special educator and disability rights advocate, I disagree with the influence high stakes standardized testing has had on our education systems - a problem that was greatly intensified under President George W. Bush. These tests do nothing to improve educational outcomes for our children with disabilities.  Policymakers are wise to view them with great skepticism.

 

A vote against this hard-fought budget would likely have put in effect the Executive's terribly flawed proposal and its draconian consequences, not the least of which would have been $1.2 billion less for public schools. In the end, I held my breath and voted to make lemonade from the bitter lemons the Governor offered. The fight is not over, however, as I and my colleagues committed to real reforms will continue to fight for our children and for full funding of the Court's ruling in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision.