Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Education groups blast governor's voucher scheme

News from New York. "A coalition of parents, educators and other organizations representing millions of New Yorkers today blasted Governor Pataki for flouting the court's order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit by introducing a voucher proposal. Crticis vew this as 'a callous and reckless slap at the state's neediest students.'" -Angela

February 13, 2006

ALBANY, N.Y. February 13, 2006 - A coalition of parents, educators and other organizations representing millions of New Yorkers today blasted Governor Pataki for flouting the court's order in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit by introducing a voucher proposal.

At a news conference commemorating the one-year anniversary of Supreme Court Judge Leland DeGrasse's ruling ordering the state to adopt the funding plan developed by a panel of special masters, the coalition said the governor's plan to implement a $400 million voucher scheme "is a callous and reckless slap at the state's neediest students."

"How long does the governor expect children to wait?" said Educational Conference Board Chair Edward McCormick. "It's bad enough that he's ignored the court's decision. But it's the height of hypocrisy to break out a shell game voucher plan that only gives false hope and bogus promises to parents who want a greater investment in public education for their children. And, diverting money from public education for vouchers will drive up local property taxes for suburban homeowners who won't benefit from this."

NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi said the governor's voucher proposal - and his shortsighted proposed education budget - is blatant evidence of the governor's continued disregard for the state's constitution, courts and public school students.

"This shows contempt for New York's courts and New York's kids," Iannuzzi said. "One year ago, the courts ordered the state to implement a solution, but the governor seems to think he's above the law. His 'education tax credit' is nothing more than a Trojan horse of back-door vouchers that would drain $400 million from our students' right to a sound basic education. The governor's entire education budget sends a very clear message: He just doesn't care about New York's public school students."

The coalition includes the New York State Parent Teachers Association; Campaign for Fiscal Equity; New York State United Teachers; Civil Service Employees Association; New York State League of Women Voters; New York State School Boards Association; NYS Council of School Superintendents; New York State Association of School Business Officers; National Education Association/NY; Fiscal Policy Institute; School Administrators Association of NYS; Citizen Action of New York and the Alliance for Quality Education.

"The governor is taking a $3 billion surplus that could fully fund the court-ordered CFE remedy for this year and is proposing to spend it on a misguided priority of tax cuts. The delay is unconscionable," said CFE Board Chairman Luis Miranda. "Everyone can see that the compliance money is sitting there ready to go, and he's just walking away. His so-called tax credit proposal is nothing more than a diversion from adequately funding our children's education."

The coalition said the voucher proposal is particularly cynical given its timing. On February 14, 2005, DeGrasse ordered the state to guarantee the right to quality public education

for students who have been shortchanged by the state's school aid formula.

"The legislators who are pushing this voucher plan should be asked one question: If they have to make a choice, would they spend this money on private school vouchers or on CFE?" said Michael Davoli, statewide campaign associate for AQE.

The governor's proposed tax giveback, in practice, would favor those with resources, provide no accountability for how tax dollars are spent, and would be daunting to access for the state's poorest families, analysts said.

Students in underperforming schools are already guaranteed free tutoring under the No Child Left Behind Act, for example, so the primary beneficiaries of the plan would be families with the resources to pay full tuition for private or religious schools.

"What's missing from the governor's plan is both financial accountability and accountability for results," said Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association. "Who will provide oversight? We are much better off investing our taxpayers' hard-earned money in a system in which certified teachers teach students, and oversight is provided by elected school boards, the State Education Department, and the state Board of Regents. It's a $400 million gift from the taxpayers of New York state to families who don't need it."

Added Robin Rapaport, president of the NEA-NY, "The governor is playing a shameful political shell game. By ignoring his legal obligation to implement the court's order, he's also ignoring the needs of millions of public school students across the state. The governor should stop playing games and use the surplus to fully fund public schools."

"The governor's proposal for a tax credit for residents only makes a bad situation worse," said CSEA President Danny Donohue. "The responsible approach would be to focus on helping schools improve rather than undermining them further by draining resources and eroding public support."

Public schools still have too many unmet needs to waste $400 million on a voucher plan, according to CSEA President Danny Donohue.

"The public schools need more capacity, not less, to educate all students to high standards," DeWald said, "The NYS PTA believes that every child deserves equal access to the same outcome, that is, an excellent education. That means using our government's resources to close gaps, not create them; to raise student achievement for all and not just for some; and to prepare students for a democratic society for which public schools remain the best forum."

The governor's school aid plan will also have a negative impact on school property taxpayers across the state, according to Thomas Rogers, executive director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

"This is $400 million that would provide little help to the neediest families, that would not be available for property tax relief, that would not be spent with the accountability demanded of public schools, and that would not be used to keep the promise of a sound basic education for every child," Rogers said. "This money could instead be used to triple the number of children in pre-K programs, provide an inflation adjustment to STAR benefits, hire more teaching assistants for students struggling to reach state standards or close the spending gap between high need districts and their better-off peers. An education tax credit is not what New York needs."

George Perry, executive director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials, also criticized the governor's voucher plan: "The governor's proposal to provide tax rebates to parents of underperforming schools fails to address the fundamental problems of the current school financing system of New York's pubic schools. It has been a year since Judge DeGrasse reaffirmed the Court of Appeals decision. Our children are better served if the state uses its resources to properly fund public education rather than diluting the educational system with a voucher system."

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