Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — Educators who favor lengthening the time students spend in school welcomed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's support in his State of the State address this week but lamented a plan to fund it through competitive grants that would limit the number of students who'd benefit.
"These are important programs and we really should look to find a way to develop a stable, sustainable revenue stream ... so that all districts can participate in those important programs and not just a select few," said David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.
Cuomo on Wednesday proposed picking up the costs for districts that extend learning time by at least 25 percent with longer school days or years. He also backed the expansion of full-day pre-kindergarten programs beginning in higher needs districts.
"When it comes to education, I say two words: More and better," Cuomo said.
He did not say how much money he would make available for grants. The governor's budget proposal is due Jan. 22.
"He points out Massachusetts, where these extended days have been very successful," said Michael Rebell, executive director of the nonprofit Campaign for Educational Equity. "Well if that's true, then how do you give it to 10 percent or whatever percent of the kids are going to get it through competitive grants? Why shouldn't all the kids get it?"
Cuomo has included competitive grants in two previous budgets to encourage districts to improve management efficiency and student performance.
Superintendent James Bodziak said his Frontier Central School District in suburban Buffalo would be interested in expanding its universal pre-kindergarten program, but he's looking for assurances the money will last before deciding whether to pursue a grant.
"Is it going to be funded for years and years or is it just funded for the first couple of years and then, like many things, the money is pulled away and now we're either going to have to sustain it by ourselves or we have to eliminate the program?" he asked.
Albion Superintendent Michael Bonnewell and others said even applying for grants presented challenges.
"Just to do the application requires you to redirect resources that you would have used otherwise," he said, "and without a guarantee that you're going to receive the competitive award."
Richard Longhurst, executive administrator of the New York State PTA, said New York still must address the larger issue of how it distributes state aid.
"There's a place for competitive grants," he said, "but until schools are able to provide a basic education, that has to be the higher priority."
Cuomo also proposed creating an entrance exam for new teachers like the bar exams taken by lawyers, and paying "master teachers" $15,000 bonuses for four years to improve and train other teachers.
"The retention statistics of new teachers, even nationally, is almost startling, so the notion of investing in teacher preparation is very, very wise," said Webster Thomas High School Teacher Greg Ahlquist, who was named the state's teacher of the year in October.
The proposals, including one to create "community schools" that consolidate health and other supports under one roof, were among recommendations the New York Education Reform Commission delivered to Cuomo a week earlier.
"All of the proposals he's putting forward are right on target," Albert said. "The question is just, will the funding be there?"Big Red Number 25 Gov. Cuomo proposed extending learning time by at least 25 percent with longer school days or years.