Cuomo names education reform panel

Matt Ryan / NY Now

Governor Cuomo named a blue ribbon commission to look at the problems facing education in New York, instructing them to come back with an “action plan” not a “theoretical document”.

Cuomo has named retired Citibank Chair and Time Warner President Richard Parsons to head a panel on education that includes the SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, State Education Commissioner John King, and the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Education committees, as well as private sector advocates like Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone,  featured in the film documentary about the plight of modern education, Waiting for Superman.

Cuomo has charged the panel with examining everything from teacher recruitment and performance, to whether the current school calendar is appropriate, and how the state’s more than 700 school districts are structured.

The governor says he expects the panel to produce a concrete plan that the he and the legislature can implement in time for the 2013 school year.

“I want an action plan,” said Cuomo. “I want a plan that can be implemented. I want a blueprint.”

And he predicts that one of the opening lines in the report will be that “government has failed” to do what it should.

Cuomo says he’s tired of hearing the same “debate” over education that’s occurred for the last twenty years, which he says focuses too much on what he calls “high priced” professional education lobbyists and  the amount of money to be spent on schools.

‘And the priorities of the financial interests, in my opinion, have sometimes trumped the interests of the children,” Cuomo said. “That has to be broken.”

Invoking a favorite phrase, the governor said the debate should not be about “more money”.

“The only people who say the answer is ‘more money’ are the people who are being paid the money,” Cuomo said.

Randi Weingarten, the President of the American federation of Teachers, and former head of the New York City based United Federation of Teachers was also named to the panel, but no current state or city teacher s union leaders are on the commission. Weingarten was not present at the announcement.

There are also no representatives from any members of the state’s school boards on the panel.

New York already has a governing body, named by the legislature, to oversee education in New York, the State Board of Regents.  No member of the Regents was appointed by Cuomo to the commission.  The governor says Education Commissioner King will represent the Regents. King did not comment to the media.

In New York, governors have no direct control over the Board of Regents. Asked whether the new commission might look at whether governors should have authority over the Regents, the governor answered, “they can look at anything”.

Billy Easton, with the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group to increase school funding that is allied with the teachers unions, says his group is happy that the governor has created the commission. But Easton says he disagrees with the governor. He says the panel does have to consider the money, at a time when the state has not fulfilled a court order that said the state needed to spend billions of more dollars school funding, and at a time when a new property tax cap might lead to lay offs of teachers and school program cut backs.

“The governor’s policies have actually hurt our schools,” said Easton who says kindergarten and after school programs, high school electives and advanced placement classes have all had to be scratched in some schools because of cash shortages.

“All of these things actually do cost money,” Easton said.

The chief lawyer in the school funding court case,  Michael Rebell,  was appointed by Cuomo to the new education commission.  Rebell was absent from the announcement.

Members of the panel did not want to comment on what they view as the chief problems facing the state’s education system, Chairman Parsons says he does not want to be divisive and wants to get organized first.