- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday proposed spending $1.1 billion more on the state’s schools next year if lawmakers pass several reforms, including on a teacher evaluation system he mocked as “baloney.”

During a combined State of the State and budget address in Albany, Cuomo also called for raising the cap on charter schools, making it easier to fire bad teachers and extending mayoral control of schools in New York City and possibly elsewhere.

The 4.8 percent increase over the current year’s $22 billion in funding would come “if we actually stand up and pass these reforms,” the Democratic governor said.

“If we really want to invest in the system, then make it the right system,” he said. “Don’t ask the taxpayers of New York to throw good money after bad. We’ve done that for decades.”

Setting up what is certain to be a fight with the teachers unions, Cuomo called the current system for rating teachers “baloney” and proposed changing it to rely even more heavily on students’ performance on Common Core-aligned standardized tests.

“Thirty-eight percent of high school students are college ready,” Cuomo said, “and 98.7 percent of high school teachers are rated effective. How can that be?”

He recommended basing half the evaluation on the statewide tests, up from 20 percent, and the other half on classroom observation. Teachers would need five consecutive years of effective ratings to achieve tenure, and those earning the top “highly effective” rating would qualify for $20,000 bonuses, he said. Two ineffective ratings could get a teacher fired.

The New York State United Teachers called the governor “misinformed” and said Cuomo’s proposal falls short of the $2.2 billion more the union says is necessary to meet students’ needs.

“There’s no epidemic of failing schools or bad teachers,” NYSUT President Karen Magee said in a statement. “There is an epidemic of poverty and under-funding that Albany has failed to adequately address for decades.”

The Board of Regents, which sets education policy, applauded Cuomo for adopting many of the recommendations it made at Cuomo’s request last month.

The agenda also won praise from a group of parents in the Buffalo school district, which Cuomo singled out as chronically failing.

“We have never seen the underlying problems facing education confronted so directly,” Sam Radford, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said.

Cuomo proposed raising the cap on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, from 460 to 560 and removing restrictions on where they can be built. Children attending underperforming district schools would get priority in charter school lotteries, he said, and legislation would ensure that charters take their fair share of English language learners, the disabled and poor students.

In New York City, which is nearing its current cap on charter schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he saw no reason to allow for more.

“I want to certainly work with charter schools in New York City, but as I’ve said many times, the key to improving education in New York City and throughout the state is to do a much better job at traditional public schools,” he said. “That’s where my focus is first and foremost.”

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Michael Virtanen contributed to this report from Albany.

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