Meeting of the Board of Regents | July 2007
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
State Aid Subcommittee
Regents 2008-09 Proposal on State Aid to School Districts--State Aid, Accountability and Other Fiscal Issues Relating to Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007
July 18, 2007
1, 2, 3 and 5
Issues for Discussion
Can the connection between State Aid and accountability be strengthened to better reflect Regents priorities? Are there additional ways in which the Regents 2008-09 State Aid Proposal can help school districts close the achievement gap and improve student achievement? Is the Department’s plan adequate to assess the impact of contracts for excellence?
Reason(s) for Consideration
This report is part of the development of the Regents 2008-09 State Aid proposal.
Discussion with the Regents EMSC-VESID Committee and Subcommittee on State Aid in July.
The 2007-08 New York State budget (Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007) supports Regents goals and presents an historic opportunity to focus new resources on improved student learning. As the Department helps school districts invest these additional resources effectively, it has reviewed the fiscal provisions of the law.
Because Chapter 57 combines school improvement, finance and accountability, the chair of the Regents Subcommittee on State Aid recommends a joint meeting with the Regents EMSC-VESID Committee. The attached report (1) provides a description of the fiscal aspects of the law, (2) identifies policy implications for Regents review, discussion and possible incorporation in the Regents State Aid proposal, and (3) proposes a plan for evaluating the impact of contracts for excellence.
The recently enacted 2007-08 State Budget. supports the Regents efforts to raise educational standards and provide all students with the opportunity to meet them by providing adequate funding for school districts over a four-year period. This funding is coupled with a series of enhanced accountability requirements. Specific important requirements in the law include contracts for excellence for districts with large Foundation Aid increases and at least one low-performing school; joint intervention teams, school quality review teams and distinguished educators to support various levels of interventions for low-performing schools; an expansion of the schools under registration review (SURR) process; required maintenance of local effort in support of schools for the Yonkers, Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester school districts; and a requirement that the State Education Department develop a system of school-based (rather than district-based) expenditure reporting. To strengthen the capacity of school districts and the Department to implement these statutory requirements, this report examines the fiscal implications of each of these requirements and considers possible enhancements as part of the Regents State Aid proposal.
There are two additional important initiatives related to preschool education that should also be discussed in the context of the Regents 2008-09 State Aid Proposal. The first is the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet, which includes representatives from all State agencies, including the Education Department. This group is focused on maximizing resources so that Pre-Kindergarten education is truly universal (as well as universal healthcare for all children in our State). The Steering Committee of this Cabinet is studying ways in which barriers to the development of new or expanded Pre-K programs can be eliminated so that all school districts are able to offer Pre-K programs to all children. Some of the barriers might be addressed by a change in the statutory funding formula. A discussion of this policy matter by the Regents would be beneficial for future initiatives.
The second initiative is the Temporary Task Force on Preschool Education, established in the 2007-08 State budget. This group is charged with recommending how to better integrate into Universal Pre-K, programs for preschool students with disabilities. One proposal that is being considered is whether to recommend a statutory change that would provide an incentive to school districts to increase integration of pre-k children with disabilities by allowing UPK funds to be used for full-day programs and/or to serve three-year olds if those programs included collaborative classes with approved special education programs (currently UPK funds may be used only for four-year olds). We are seeking feedback from the Board of Regents on whether it would consider support of an amendment to State statute to revise funding criteria to permit this broader use of UPK funds.
It is recommended that the Regents EMSC-VESID Committee and State Aid Subcommittee discuss the material presented in the attached report to identify policy areas of interest for further development in the Regents 2008-09 school aid proposal.
Timetable for Implementation
Beginning with the February 2007 Regents meeting, the Regents have reviewed legislative action relating to State Aid to school districts and school accountability. They have developed regulations for implementing contracts for excellence, and discussed their goals for the 2008-09 State Aid proposal and options for funding early childhood education. Following this discussion on State Aid and accountability, staff will present a draft of the Regents State Aid proposal for review at the September meeting, and for approval at the October meeting. The Regents proposal will be updated in December with the latest data available from school districts, for consideration by the Governor and Legislature for the 2008-09 legislative session.
State Aid and Accountability and
Other Fiscal Issues Relating to
Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007
The evolution of funding and accountability
To assess the current system that links funding to accountability, it is important to reflect on the previous system. In the very recent history in New York State, countless sources documented a resource and achievement gap in school districts. The quality of the inputs and outputs of education depended in some considerable part on where one lived in New York State. The Laws of 2007 set forth a four year plan to move to a needs-based and adequate system of educational funding based on the cost of successful school districts.
Prior to 2007, performance and fiscal accountability systems were separate. Performance accountability measured the extent to which students met State benchmarks, or for districts below standard, made adequate yearly progress. Fiscal accountability systems, enhanced by Chapter 263 of the Laws of 2005, emphasized boards’ of education responsibility to keep education expenditures within available revenues. The fiscal folks acknowledged the importance of student achievement and the performance accountability folks acknowledged the importance of finance, but neither system was set up to take into account the other.
The new State Budget provided a plan to move to adequate funding in four years and introduced a new accountability concept: program accountability (or the demonstration that resources are used for programs that have a proven track record of contributing to student achievement growth). The law pushed the education system to begin to merge fiscal, performance and program accountability through requirements related to Contracts for Excellence (C4E) and other requirements that link resources to accountability. This Regents report examines these changes and raises policy questions for enhancing these relationships.
Accountability requirements of Chapter 57 with fiscal implications
The Budget includes a number of accountability provisions with fiscal implications:
Contracts for Excellence require school districts with large aid increases and at least one low-performing school to spend their aid increases in ways that are documented to improve student achievement. The law requires school districts to target funds to students with the greatest educational needs and to supplement, rather than supplant, existing district effort.
Joint Intervention Teams and School Quality ReviewTeams are required for school districts with repeated low performance. Reasonable and necessary costs of these teams are required to be a charge on the low-performing district.
Distinguished educators will be used for districts in restructuring or registration review status and represent a greater level of intervention. Costs of distinguished educators are required to be a charge on the low-performing district.
Expand the SURR process. The State Education Department is required to provide increased school improvement support for up to five percent of all schools. Currently SURR schools have access to a categorical funding stream to support school improvement efforts in each school. Although Foundation Aid and funding for NYSED staff devoted to accountability increased under the 2007 legislation, this categorical funding stream remained the same.
Big Four Maintenance of Effort. The big four city school districts, Rochester, Yonkers, Syracuse and Buffalo, are required to maintain their support for education over the prior year or, if the city reduces its effort, to reduce school support by the same amount. The Regents have long recommended that the state require this to ensure that State Aid increases directed to these fiscally dependent school districts are used for education and not to reduce local support for schools.
School-based Expenditure Reporting System. The State Education Department is directed to develop a system of school-based expenditure reporting. The current system is district-based. The State Education Department is participating in a research study, funded by federal dollars, to identify specific expenditures and data elements that can be reported at a school level. Such a system may yield insights into the relationship between expenditures and student results which will further enhance the ability of schools to target resources for improved student achievement.
Evaluating the Impact of C4Es
The Regents have placed great emphasis on the importance of using contracts for excellence in a manner that:
- Provides a direct impact on student achievement,
- Targets resources to students with the greatest educational needs including students with disabilities, English language learners and students living in poverty, and giving priority to schools with concentrations of such students, and
- Supplements previous district support for schools.
Evaluation of the effectiveness of contracts for excellence is a critical component of this implementation. Without evaluation, the State risks investing billions of dollars on programs that do not make a difference. Evaluation provides information for strengthening programs that work and for changing course with programs that are ineffective or less effective. However, while evaluation has great importance, the state of the art is still developing. While educators may think they know what works from their practical experience we usually do not have precise information that identifies the achievement gains that result from specific interventions. This precise information results from careful experimentation that controls for the many influences that may confound research findings. An effective evaluation system will involve a unique student identifier, the collection of data that results in a database that affords a thorough examination of educational resources and student achievement, and implementation of educational programs in a manner that allows for examination of experimental and control groups to isolate the impact of specific interventions.
To provide information at the earliest possible time and simultaneously develop an evaluation system that provides answers to educational problems of international interest, the Department proposes a plan for evaluating the impact of C4E in three phases: short-run, medium-run and long-run.
In the short-run (winter 2007-08), the Department will provide an evaluation of contract for excellence plans including:
- A profile of participating districts.
- How the Department ensured that resources were targeted on programs that were responsive to the specific achievement needs of C4E school districts.
- How much money was budgeted for each allowable program.
- What model programs were identified.
- What experimental programs were approved.
- To what extent did districts target funds to schools and students with the greatest educational needs.
In the year following implementation of C4E (fall 2008), an assessment will be reported as to:
- What C4E school districts reported they spent on allowable and experimental programs and the achievement targets they actually accomplished;
- How early childhood education programs can be assessed and how C4E school districts performed in relation to newly created indicators of early childhood education success; and
- How school assessment data changed for C4E schools and districts.
In the long-run, researchers will identify the data that should be collected and the research designs that should be conducted to assess the impact on student achievement for different specific interventions. Does money spent on class size reduction yield greater student achievement results than money spent on increased time on task? What are the essential elements that yield the greatest increase in student achievement?
The Education Finance Research Consortium plans to conduct a symposium on the evaluation data and design needed for New York State to answer some of the most important questions in education. The Consortium plans to convene a symposium that builds on the provisions of Chapter 57 of the Laws of 2007 to provide guidance about how to proceed with program and policy evaluation and the development and use of accountability systems. In some areas New York can benchmark other states on the development of longitudinal databases that inform evaluation and accountability. In other respects, New York would be a leader in systematically using these data to inform policy development.
The symposium would be designed around three background papers summarizing best practices of the use of databases, including student achievement data to inform program and policy evaluation and teacher, school and district accountability. Leading national experts would be commissioned to write and present these papers at a symposium in Albany in early October. The papers would be distributed in advance and would form the basis of discussions of key stakeholders. The symposium would insure that each of the stakeholders share a common background on foundational issues necessary to the development of policy in this area. Broad agreement on these issues provides a foundation for the development of an agenda for development of evaluation and accountability measures.
- Longitudinal Databases in Other States: this policy brief will describe the landscape for data and educational policy analysis in other states including how these states have addressed technical and legal aspects of data design and access.
- Program and Policy Evaluation in Education: this policy brief would discuss general issues of using evaluation to inform policy, including issues of baseline data, quasi-experimental and random assignment design. This paper would also address the use of evaluation for the contracts for excellence.
- Informing Accountability: How can state data systems and evaluation be employed as part of an accountability system to insure that increased State aid is being used most efficiently to improve student performance? How soon can available data on student performance be employed to evaluate educational policies and personnel? What would a well-rounded evaluation system look like?
Department staff will develop a monitoring plan to monitor school districts to ensure that requirements of Chapter 57 are implemented consistent with the legislative intent.
Policy Issues that impact on the Regents 2008-09 State Aid Proposal and that may Require Statutory Changes
1. Should the standards for identifying districts that must comply with contracts for excellence be re-examined for future years? Should the trigger for becoming a C4E school district be based more on achievement and less on the amount of money received?
2. Should the State require districts to comply with C4E requirements for three years rather than the current system in which a district may be a C4E district one year and not the next?
3. Costs of school quality review teams, joint intervention teams and distinguished educators are to be a charge to the school district requiring the improvement. This is consistent with the Regents policy direction that the greater the need for educational improvement, the greater the State intervention and consequences placed on school districts. However, when a team or distinguished educator will provide sustained, intensive support to a school or district, should the cost of this intervention remain a charge to the school district or should the State Education Department be provided with funding to support this additional level of intervention?
4. When a School Quality Review Team or a Joint Intervention Team is assigned to a school the team’s recommendations are advisory only. Should this remain the case or should the district be required to incorporate the recommendations into improvement plans, or provide the Commissioner in writing with the reasons why the recommendations have not been incorporated?
5. How should the District Superintendents and the BOCES be involved in implementing the School Quality Review Teams, Joint Intervention Teams and distinguished educators programs and what legal/fiscal structures are needed to allow the District Superintendent and the BOCES to carry out their role?
6. The number of schools annually identified for registration review is expected to increase during the next four years. Although Foundation Aid and Department staffing to support school improvement efforts have been increased, the specific State Operation funds that are used by the Department to conduct registration reviews and the local assistance funds that are used by districts to develop improvement plans for SURR schools remain unchanged. Should categorical funding streams be increased to support registration reviews in a larger number of schools and to provide grants to districts to implement improvement plans developed based upon these reviews?
7. Should State statute be amended to permit broader uses of Universal Pre-Kindergarten funds?