As the first half of the school year comes to a close, there are many questions parents and educators are asking themselves. With the economic hard times looming, many are worried about what the rest of the school year may bring. This past year, the budget for the 2008-2009 fiscal year kept the promise to fund a sound, basic education from Pre-K through high school graduation. The crisis that today plagues our economy will have an impact on New York State’s revenues and expenditures but it will not weaken the Assembly’s resolve to champion education. That is our future. It will, however, take all of us together to see our schools through difficult times.
The Assembly Education Committee reviews well over 500 bills during the two-year legislative term. These bills deal with a wide range of issues – school funding, pre-K and early childhood education, transportation, maintenance of school buildings, school nutrition, special education, charter schools, continued mayoral, community, and other controls of the 700 school districts in our state and so much more. There are many stakeholders, all with suggestions and opinions; it takes the persistence of the Education Committee to establish good public policy.
This legislative session I am pleased to report that we held a roundtable on academic achievement by English Language Learners. To continue a dialogue that the committee began last year, we held a roundtable that brought together legislators, experts, and community leaders to discuss policies that will help to assure English Language Learners access to quality educational opportunities and programs that meet their needs.
The committee also held a public hearing on school compliance with state law, regulations and policies that require physical education. As a nation, there have been growing concerns for the health and wellness of school children. To start to address this issue I held a hearing about physical education in New York State. The state’s law, regulation and policies about physical education set standards that are recognized nationally to be among the best. However, many schools throughout this state do not comply with the current state law, which requires physical education instruction. During the hearing, committee members heard from and questioned representatives from the New York State Education Department, New York City Department of Education, physical education teachers, principals and school administrators, parents and advocates.
Education policy relies on collaboration. I have attended several of the meetings of the Board of Regents this year, both to learn more about state education policy and from the Regents themselves. Everyone needs to be at the policy-making table – parents, teachers, principals, administrators, professionals at the State Education Department, and the students themselves. All contribute to the development and implementation of good programs and services for our children.
New York and its schools will face many challenges in the years ahead. The lasting impact of education and proper policies, legislation and funding are responsibilities that I take with the utmost seriousness of purpose. I am optimistic that we will address problems in a comprehensive and ultimately successful way to look forward to working with all New Yorkers.
During the 2008 legislative session, over 560 bills were referred to the Committee on Education. The 31 members met 11 times to consider these bills. The committee reported 77 bills to other committees such as the Ways and Means and Rules Committees for consideration or to the Assembly for a vote.
The Education Committee reported a number of bills which have been signed into law this year, including the following:
A.8699 (Chapter 172) Nolan: Establishes a program to identify methodologies and practices utilized by schools and school districts within the state and nationally for lunch programs.
A.11463 (Chapter 217) Rules (Benedetto): Assemblymember Benedetto, who chairs the Subcommittee on Students with Special Needs, introduced this bill to assure continued special education services to students who are educated at home. This law will help to protect these very vulnerable children against interruption of their education.
A.11500 (Chapter 296) Rules (Nolan): Provides for the automatic revocation of a teaching certificate held by a teacher convicted of a sex offense.
A.11513 (Chapter 325) Rules (Nolan): Automatically revokes the certification of any administrator or teacher who is convicted of defrauding the government.
A.11550 (Chapter 484) Rules (Weisenberg): Requires special education teachers and special education administrators to be trained in the needs of children with autism.
The governor signed into law a number of bills about specific school districts and the best interest of their students. These were bills that dealt with district-specific issues such as transportation contracts, capital spending and other school district operations that require state action.
In addition to this, the committee also passed several bills about the safety and well-being of students, which have always been priorities for members of the committee. The following are some of the bills that passed the committee this year:
A.1338 McEneny: This bill authorizes and directs the Commissioner of Education to require that school districts adopt student-to-adult ratios in outside play areas.
A.3432-D Diaz: This bill would require electronic monitoring equipment on school buses in the city of New York.
A.9824 Nolan: This bill would amend the Education Law to state explicitly that meetings of parents or parent-teacher associations must be open to the public if held on public schools property. All organizations that sponsor meetings, entertainments or other events at schools would be provided with written information about the law.
A.11092 Nolan: This bill would require review of foreign language learning standards. It would also establish a pilot program to support Regents review of learning standards.
A.11256 Brodsky: This bill deals with the safe and responsible use of the Internet, which, if not used wisely, can easily turn inquiry into danger. It would also require the Commissioner of Education to develop age-appropriate resources for schools to provide grade students and their parents/legal guardians instructions concerning Internet safety.
The state budget significantly affects education. As I write this, the national, state, and local news about the economy cautions my exhilaration about our success in 2008. This upcoming year we will need to be creative, patient and work together to make sure that all students receive the best education.
The state budget for the fiscal year 2008-2009 kept the promise to fund a sound, basic education from Pre-K through high school graduation. The crisis that today plagues our economy will have an impact on New York State’s revenues and expenditures but it will not weaken the Assembly’s or my resolve to champion education. That is our future. It will take all of us working together to see our schools through difficult times.
It’s vital that we can have trust in those who control the purse strings of our public schools. And it’s equally vital that we adequately punish any school administrator who violates that trust by using taxpayer dollars for his or her personal gain.
I recently sponsored legislation that passed the Assembly to combat fraud by school administrators (A.11513-A). The measure will revoke the professional license of any school administrator or supervisor convicted of defrauding the government in excess of $1,000 and remove that person from his or her job.
We took this step to help prevent embezzlement by school administrators. When a school district leader abuses his or her power to that degree, that person should no longer serve our children or our community. This is a tough bill that will send corrupt school administrators a message: Not in this state.
I am very pleased to have worked with Speaker Silver in addressing these issues which are profoundly important to schools and families. Parents need to know with certainty that when they send their children to school each morning, they will be in a safe environment where they are free to learn. By revoking the teaching certificate of any teacher convicted of a sex offense, we can protect our students and provide parents with the necessary assurance that the school has investigated each teacher’s background completely and thoroughly.
In addition, by revoking the certificates and terminating employment of school administrators who defraud the government, we effectively protect our school communities.