Cuomo gets mixed reviews on schools in poll

PHOTO: Karen DeWitt / NY Public Radio

In a new poll released Monday, voters give Governor Andrew Cuomo mixed reviews on his education policies. They say they like a new agreement on teacher evaluations, but a narrow margin say the governor is overall making the problems in the education system worse.

The poll, by Siena College, asked voters whether they think a new teacher evaluation system brokered by Governor Cuomo will improve the quality of education in New York.

Siena’s Steve Greenberg says 50% say they think it would, while 38% believed it would have no effect. Only 3% think the new system would make things worse.  He says nearly two thirds also think the evaluation system will be fair.

The poll also asked respondents about the governor’s effectiveness in a number of areas, including education. While a majority thought that Cuomo has improved the ethical standards and fiscal condition of the state, more thought Cuomo’s efforts in education had made matters worse.

“What stands out is that’s the only issue where more voters say he’s made it a problem than has improved the issue,” said Greenberg.

Only 22% think the governor’s efforts to date have helped education, 27% think Cuomo’s actions have made things worse, although most, 45%, think Cuomo’s policies have had no effect either way.

Advocates of increased education funding seized on the poll’s findings. Billy Easton, with the Alliance for Quality Education, says last year, Cuomo presided over a budget that cut $1.3 billion dollars in aid to schools. And he says New Yorkers are feeling the effects.

“Parents and community members are seeing the kinds of cuts that are being implemented across the state,” Easton said, who says there have been cuts made to  kindergarten programs and college prep courses, while class sizes are “ballooning”.

“These cuts hurt, and people know it,” said Easton.

But Greenberg, with Siena, says it’s more complicated than that.

“This governor is saying it’s not about the money it’s about the outcome,” says Greenberg, who points out that Cuomo, in his State of the State message, declared that he would be the “lobbyist” for students.

Cuomo mentions those points frequently in his standard stump speech, saying . He explained his position recently to reporters.

“The problem with education in New York is not money,” Cuomo said. “We have one of the highest spending rates in the nation. Our performance isn’t where our money is.”

Cuomo says the state ranks only number 38 in student performance, despite the high spending.

“When the service isn’t being provided, the answer is to figure out what’s wrong with the service and how to make the service better,” said Cuomo. “ Don’t just throw more money at the problem.”

Greenberg says since Cuomo has brought up the issue of the quality of education, voters are judging him on that.

“He has set himself up on this issue,” said Greenberg.

Greenberg says if the education improves, Cuomo gets the credit, if he doesn’t, then the governor gets “the lion’s share of the blame.”

Despite Cuomo’s assertion that more money is not the only answer, this year school funding will be increased 4% over last year’s amount, though the governor wants schools to compete for some of those funds.