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Governance Divide Report

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THE GOVERNANCE DIVIDE - The Case Study for New York

  Introduction

History and tradition are important factors in education governance and politics in New York. The state's historic governance structures that are inherently K–16 have created opportunities for connections between K–12 and postsecondary education. The Board of Regents has the legal responsibility for pre-K, K–12, and postsecondary education; libraries, museums, education technologies, public television, and radio; and other education-related areas. The board's history dates to 1784, when the regents were created by several of the nation's founding fathers. This lends the Board of Regents a stature, tradition, and historical legitimacy unlike any other statewide education governance structure in the nation.

The regents were created, a former education leader said, to "launch the new State of New York out of colonial status and to provide quality control by the state." The overall structure of New York's education governance systems has changed little since its inception. "At the end of the 19th century," the education leader said, "there was a unification act and the state superintendent's office was merged with the Board of Regents, and the Department of Education became the administrative arm for both sectors, so it's all one system." Private postsecondary institutions, which are very influential in the state, are not directly overseen by the regents, but the regents often act as a buffer between them and other powerful public sector educational interests.

Numerous interviewees said that the governance system needs to evolve to meet the educational challenges posed by the new economy and by an increasingly diverse student body. As described in this report, however, politics often seem to derail many opportunities for significant changes in educational governance. One interviewee summed up education governance by stating:

    It's all political. The Board of Regents is all controlled by Assembly Democrats. It follows a Democratic agenda. Not even a Democratic agenda—an Assembly Democrat agenda. It's not respected. It's not forward-thinking. It used to be good, during the Golden Age of Rockefeller. They were smart and respected. Now it's a mess… It got too politicized… The structure is there, theoretically, but, in reality, it's the informal relationship and leadership style—innovation and a focus on students—that make things happen.

School finance issues are also prominent in affecting the context of education policymaking in New York. For example, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity filed a constitutional challenge to the state's K–12 funding system in 1993, and the issue is still before the courts. In June of 2003, the Court of Appeals ruled that the New York State Constitution guarantees a "sound basic education" to every child and that all children must have an opportunity to have a "meaningful" high school education. The court then required the state: (1) to determine the cost of providing a sound basic education for every student and (2) to change the funding system to comply with the ruling and necessary costs. The state originally had until July 30, 2004, to develop remedies, but that was delayed.1 The Legislature had waited to adopt a final 2004–2005 budget because of the impending settlement agreement. After the delay, in September 2004, the Legislature did adopt a budget. According to a news article, "After a year fraught with tension between the governor, the Senate majority leader, and Speaker Silver, the Legislature finally came to some resolution and adopted a budget for this year. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of the budget was adopted through a series of continuing resolutions, or extenders, which kept the state functioning… The legislative budget compromise was only reached once the deadline for the school funding issue had passed."2

As a Senate staff member said about K–12 finance, "It's the 800-pound gorilla. It's what we all care about. It's like the congressperson with a military base in his district, except everyone has one. As a result, it tends to suck the air out of the room." In addition, compliance with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has required a great deal of time and resources at the state level. As one interviewee stated, "NCLB consumed the last two and a half years of our lives."

Economically, much of the state has been hard hit in recent years. Upstate New York has suffered major manufacturing losses, and access to postsecondary education has become very important in many of those communities. The economic challenges, recent demographic changes, and persistent educational inequalities are creating a need for improved postsecondary access and preparation for all. The regents, governor, Legislature, and business leaders are currently taking a more active role in higher education policymaking than in recent years. As an education association president said, "Part of the drive is to recover the state's past glory with … higher education as the catalyst for economic development."

Amidst a renewed interest in higher education policymaking, the commissioner of education has also been active in changing the state's K–12 assessment program. The regents exams were overhauled and there are now two high school diploma levels based on students' scores on the exams. In order to graduate from high school, students must pass regents exams in five core subject areas (English, mathematics, science, U.S. history, and world history). Thus, as in most states, there is a great deal of change in education policy in New York, particularly at the K–12 level—even though the governance structure has remained stable.

This report explores how connected New York's education policies and reforms are across pre-K, K–12, and postsecondary education (called PK–16), with a focus on state-level initiatives, governance, and related structures. Aside from research conducted in New York City, this project did not explore these issues in relation to local or regional issues. The New York field research was conducted in May 2004. The main research questions included the following:

  • To what extent is PK–16 reform perceived as a state policy concern? What are the incentives and disincentives for improved connections?

  • What are the main goals and objectives of current state-level PK–16 reforms? Who is responsible for developing and implementing those changes?

  • What have been the main successes and failures to date?

Many of these questions were difficult to answer because, unlike states such as Oregon and Georgia, New York does not have clearly articulated statewide PK–16 goals, policies, or programs.

In presenting the findings, this report first describes the context of PK–16 reform and governance in New York. It then presents a summary of major PK–16 reforms, an analysis of PK-16 challenges, and a concluding overview of the opportunities for PK–16 reform in New York. An appendix provides the interview questions for the research visit to the state.


1. See http://www.winningbeginningny.org/documents/cfe_lawsuit.pdf.
2. See http://www.nyfb.org/.

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