Five Education Stories to Watch in 2013

Question1. Questions about school safety surfaced almost immediately following the unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. at the end of 2012.  The school had strong safety protocols in place, but they were no match for a shooter with military-style weapons.

In 2013, look for more soul-searching conversations and concomitant action about school safety. Parents have an absolute right to expect that when they send their children to school, they will be safe and secure, and that they will be returned to them at the end of the day in the same condition. But this heated debate involves much more than amending school safety plans. On one side are the gun control advocates and on the other are the proponents of arming not only guards – but teachers and administrators, too. Where this argument will go is anybody’s guess, but it’s sure to dominate the education and political news this year.

2. High-stakes testing was in the news in 2012. While many national policy and opinion makers favored testing as a way to reform the educational system, those in the trenches disagreed. For example, parents organized boycotts against testing and local boards of education passed resolutions against testing.

The National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing has been endorsed by more than 13,700 individuals and 460 organizations. It calls on the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act, “reduce the testing mandates, promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability, and not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.”

In 2013, expect the debate to heat up as more academics and education writers line up against high-stakes testing.

3. In addition, the related issue of teacher evaluations will continue to be hotly debated as teacher unions persist in questioning the wisdom of linking evaluations to testing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo set a deadline of Jan. 17, 2013, for local school districts and unions in New York to agree on a teacher evaluation plan following the parameters set down in state legislation. If not, Cuomo warned, they would lose state aid. Only about 250 of the state’s 700 districts had approved plans as of Dec. 1.

4. Although 45 states have adopted Common Core standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the implementation, cost, and quality of these assessments were increasingly under fire in 2012. Some believe Tony Bennett was defeated as Indiana’s state superintendent of education because of his support for Common Core.

In 2013, watch for news about grassroots efforts in several states against Common Core. Some states may even withdraw from the program, due to issues with the standards and assessments themselves, as well as the perception by some that they are a federal intrusion into education.

5. Parent/Family Engagement in schools made the news in 2012 with educators increasingly turning their attention to how to actively involve parents in their children’s education. On the other hand, a number of states adopted Parent Trigger legislation, which was passed to enable parents to take over schools — although most of these have been challenged in court.

The efficacy of the Parent Trigger will be debated and tested in 2013 amid concerns from educators that real reform efforts must include the professionals.

I wish you a happy, healthy, safe, and successful new year!!!

Two Percent Tax Cap Coming to NYS in 2012 – How will it Affect Your School?

Late last June, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the two percent tax cap legislation into law in an effort to provide relief to taxpayers. This is the first time New York State has ever had a tax cap on property taxes and its importance as a school issue for parents is huge, although school districts will not confront the issue until they embark upon their budget process in early 2012.

Expect to be hearing and reading a lot about it in the news and from your district this school year. Indeed, a recent New York Times article indicated that local governments, which are also affected by this legislation, are already mounting protests and threatening to override the cap. They are objecting to the restrictions on their spending limits and want to exempt themselves from the new cap, saying they cannot control the growth of property taxes and still provide services and comply with mandates. 

The good news for homeowners is that this legislation will limit the amount you pay in school and property taxes. It will become effective during the 2012-2013 school year, and it will prevent school districts and local governments from increasing property taxes by more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. 

The bad news is that all New York state school districts are worried about how this legislation will impact their finances. While there are certain exceptions in this legislation, such as allowing the tax levy to be higher for pension contributions required by law, districts are concerned that if state aid does not increase and unfunded mandates (state requirements for which the local districts shoulder the expenses) are not relieved, there will be further erosion to the educational program. During the last budget cycle, many districts reduced programs and staff.  Another exception is that districts will be permitted to propose budgets that exceed the cap if 60 percent of voters agree. 

Also problematic for school districts is that they must submit their proposed budget to the NYS Comptroller, Commissioner of Education, and Tax Commissioner by March 1. This is about six weeks earlier than most budgets have been finalized in the past so it will likely move up the budget process in most districts. The weak economy, coupled with the tax cap, and now the debt ceiling legislation, will likely engender much debate in school districts this year about cost savings. Be aware that your district can put anything on the table to be cut, including full-day kindergarten, sports, electives, music, busing, and even the closing of schools. You may also be asked to override the tax. Stay informed and keep tuned for tips to help you to advocate for quality education for your children.