Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday barged into a dispute between local schools and their teachers' union as the U.S. Education Department warned it might cost New York schools hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
At issue is the need for a tougher evaluation system for teachers and principals at local school districts. The state Legislature already committed the state's 700 school districts to the reform in 2010 so the state could qualify for $696 million in federal Race to the Top funds.
But 10 school districts including New York City's have failed to seal deals with unions on the systems aimed at weeding out bad educators.
Cuomo, pledging to get involved in the disputes, said Tuesday that the Assembly-led legislation in 2010 "protected the teachers' union at the expense of the students and instituted a system that is destined to fail."
"Despite the powerful interests working to protect the status quo at the expense of our students' success, this state must become a national leader in student performance," the Democratic governor said.
Earlier Tuesday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was cheered at a rally of the Alliance for Quality Education, a group of parents, educators and union members that advocate for higher state aid for school districts with the greatest needs, including New York City's district.
Silver, a lower Manhattan Democrat, said he "respectfully disagrees" with Cuomo's shot across the bow in his State of the State speech last week at AQE and other school advocates. Cuomo said then that no one lobbies for kids, only for adults, and that he will become the students' lobbyist.
"The most powerful lobbying group for our students is our parents," Silver said.
He said he and the Assembly's Democratic majority will continue to support schools.
Last week, state Education Department Commissioner John B. King suspended aid to 10 school districts where local officials couldn't agree with their teachers' and principals' unions on new evaluation systems.
Although New York committed to that reform and others, the evaluations must be approved in local collective bargaining.
The New York State United Teachers union has sued over the systems that include using student test performance. That case remains in court.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a report that New York has made progress. But he said the road block in implementing reforms means New York can choose to be either "a national leader or a laggard."
He warned that backtracking will cost New York schools hundreds of millions of dollars.
King said in a statement that New York is successfully implementing several key aspects of its Race to the Top plan, such as adopting the Common Core standards and developing curricula, professional development resources and assessments aligned to those standards.
But King said development of data systems and agreements between school districts and teachers on performance evaluations are not on track.
"It's disappointing but not discouraging," King said. "We have to get this done, and we will."
The federal Race to the Top funding has been seen as critical for New York schools in part because it comes as state aid is declining.
The report notes that New York is "committed to creating a statewide system of highly effective schools" but the dispute over the teacher and principal evaluation must be resolved.