It's too bad that George Pataki's public-education legacy will forever be overshadowed not only by his inability to reform school funding in New York, but, in fact, by his stubborn strategy of dragging out the court-ordered settlement of a longstanding lawsuit that would help do just that.
The Campaign for Fiscal Equity's fight to bring equitable state aid to New York City schoolchildren has been around as long as Pataki has been governor. A court order would require the state to channel an extra $5.6 billion in state aid to the city over four years. Pataki is resisting, appeal after appeal.
So the governor's reference in last week's State of the State address to school-financing increases "record investments in our children's schools and enact(ing) the STAR program to help provide school property tax relief to homeowners'' rang hollow in all the rhetoric.
So did the claim, "Together, we've raised educational standards.'' That accomplishment has far less to do with Pataki than just about anyone else. From Day One of taking office 11 years ago , he has wanted to abolish or at least dilute the authority of the state Board of Regents and education commissioner. In fact, education standards have been raised in New York thanks to the Regents, education officials in Albany and across the state, and, not the least, hard-working teachers and students.
Education Week, an industry newspaper, last week released its 10th annual "Quality Counts'' assessment of how individual states and the nation are faring. New York? Focusing on a decade of "standards-based education,'' the review found that New York scored at or above national averages in three of four policy categories: standards and accountability; teacher-quality efforts; and resource equity, although the latter was still only average, with poorer districts getting shortchanged. The state equaled the national performance on "school climate,'' earning a "C" for poor ratings in school size and addressing school violence.
Pataki also praised an educational "innovation'' under his tenure that many, including us, believe drain needed resources from public schools. "Our charter schools,'' he said, "have been a great success competition works.'' We're not sure where that assessment is coming from. Many charter schools have closed statewide, and new ones have a difficult time getting on their feet.
"Let's build on that success by dramatically expanding charter schools throughout the entire state,'' the governor said. Let's not.
For all that, though, the governor actually did share some good ideas that the state would do well to act on. He cited growing competition from China, also the topic of a major state Education Department summit in November. Citing the world's "fastest-growing economy,'' and its "huge advancements in education, particularly in the areas that will be most in demand in tomorrow's economy, math and science,'' Pataki proposed enhancing student preparation in those areas and in engineering by
Providing the state's struggling middle-schoolers with new math and science summer programs at community colleges across the state.
Creating more math and science high schools "like the Tech Valley Science High School in the Capital Region.''
Providing "free SUNY or CUNY tuition to students who pursue math and science degrees, and commit to teaching right here in New York state.''
He also encouraged the development of "a new Empire Innovation program that will attract even more top-flight researchers'' to the state and its colleges.
All in all, good ideas that will be even better if the governor, in his last year here, delivers on them.