New York State Executive Chamber | Governor Eliot Spitzer


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 19, 2007

GOVERNOR SPITZER ANNOUNCES CONTRACTS FOR EXCELLENCE FOR FIFTY-FIVE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Initiative Stresses Resources, Accountability and Results

Governor Eliot Spitzer, Speaker Sheldon Silver, Chancellor Robert Bennett and state Education Commissioner Richard Mills today visited the PFC William J. Grabiarz School of Excellence in Buffalo to announce approval of the Contracts for Excellence filed for the 2007-08 school year. These contracts -- filed by 55 school districts representing more than 40 percent of New York's public school students -- are a central part of reforms adopted this year to increase accountability and improve performance in New York's public schools.

This year's state budget provided $19.6 billion for education, the single largest investment in New York's history, including an additional $1.8 billion in funding. School districts that received a 10 percent or $15 million increase in state funding and had at least one underperforming school were required to develop specific plans to demonstrate how their increased funding would be used to improve student performance. These plans were formalized in Contracts for Excellence that had to be approved by the State Education Department.

"New York is finally on the road to an adequately-funded system -- one that gives every school the resources necessary to providing a quality education," said Governor Spitzer. "But providing additional resources without accountability is the same as throwing money at a problem and hoping it will just go away."

Contracts for Excellence are designed to promote greater transparency, and to improve school and student performance by linking new investments to proven practices and programs. Under the law, a school district's Contract for Excellence must specify how the district will spend its increase in state aid. A significant portion of that increase must be spent on one or more reforms proven to increase student achievement. These proven reforms include smaller class sizes, longer school days or school years, middle school and high school restructuring, and increased early learning through full day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. To encourage innovative approaches where appropriate, the law allows a smaller portion of new funding to be targeted at research-based experimental programs. The administration also plans to examine key aspects of the program's eligibility requirements in the next legislative session.

This year, the Contracts for Excellence will detail how districts spend $428 million, of which $257.9 million is directed to New York City.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said: "The Contracts for Excellence awards were designed to allow school districts such as Buffalo to better measure student performance and be more accountable to parents. However, it is our intention to revisit the eligibility criteria to give school districts additional flexibility with the use of state resources."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said: "The high school graduating class of 2020 is hard at work in kindergarten classrooms across the state today, and the Contracts for Excellence will help to ensure that these children will succeed in a highly competitive global economy. The Assembly Majority has long fought for greater funding for education. We welcome both the increased accountability for schools that comes with the Contracts for Excellence, and the strong support of Governor Spitzer."

Regents Chancellor Robert M. Bennett said: "The Regents have made closing the achievement gap our highest priority. More money than ever is now going to help the students in greatest need, and these Contracts tie some of that funding to student achievement and accountability. Now schools must implement what they promised to do."

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said: "These Contracts are commitments to a million students in more than 1,500 schools. New York has promised them a better education."

Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, Chairwoman of the Assembly Education Committee, said: "These Contracts for Excellence underscore the Assembly Majority's longstanding commitment to providing quality education for all children throughout New York State. I am particularly pleased that the importance of smaller class size has been recognized as a key factor in helping children succeed in school."

State Senator Dale Volker said: "It is safe to say that all New Yorkers want excellent schools for their children. Over the past decade, enormous amounts of state money have been infused into the system to improve educational outcomes and allow our children to better reach their God-given potential. By making sure additional state financial resources are attached with improved accountability measures, we can hopefully see improved test scores, higher graduation rates and children who will continue to strive to reach their personal and professional goals."

After this new accountability legislation was enacted in April, the State Board of Regents adopted new regulations to guide the development of the plans for the 2007-08 school year. School districts, together with State Education Department officials, finalized each of the 55 plans over the past several months, including the establishment of performance targets to reduce the achievement gap and to improve graduation rates in cited schools.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt said: "Struggling school districts such as Buffalo need all the help they can get so that every student gets a quality education. Contracts for Excellence provide these districts with additional funding and require them to use the money for state-approved goals that will improve education. As the Assembly Majority has argued for years, our schools need more resources coupled with reform and accountability, and Contracts for Excellence help move us is that direction."

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples said: "Contracts for Excellence will improve student achievement by helping children with the greatest educational needs. This initiative builds on record funding for our schools the Assembly Majority fought for in this year's state budget. Along with improved financial accountability, programmatic accountability, and performance accountability our high-need districts are now on the right path."

Assemblyman Mark Schroeder said: "Education is the key to success, and that's why the Assembly supports raising the bar in our schools. This is a groundbreaking effort for the benefit of students, teachers and parents and I support the Governor for this bold initiative. I also applaud our schools for their commitment to reaching these standards. The teacher initiatives coupled with the drive to reduce class sizes will greatly improve teacher-student contact and lead to better academic performance for our children."

Joel Klein, Chancellor of the New York City School's, said: "Working closely with the State, and with helpful feedback from educators, parents, and advocates, we developed a plan that makes success more likely for our highest-need students and schools. I applaud the Governor and Legislature for sending new resources that will help boost our students' achievement. I am also grateful to State Education Department officials for supporting a plan aligned with the core principles of our Children First reforms, particularly our commitment to accountability in providing all students with the high-quality, rigorous education they deserve."

Richard Iannuzzi, President of New York State United Teachers, said: "Teachers are dedicated to implementing research-tested reforms that make a difference in the lives of children most at risk. The governor's emphasis on reform, resources and results, which is at the heart of Contracts for Excellence, is essential to closing the achievement gap."

Education Advocates applauded the Governor's education reform agenda.

Geri D. Palast, Executive Director of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, said: "Today's approval of the first Contracts for Excellence marks the beginning of a new era for school finance, accountability and transparency in New York State. After 13 years of CFE litigation, Governor Spitzer broke the Albany gridlock on school finance reform with the Contract for Excellence initiative that drives school aid to districts based on need not politics, and makes clear that new money must be spent on high needs students in low performing schools and on strategies proven to boost student achievement. These first year contracts set priorities and provide a roadmap for the four year process of investment in improving learning that will, if done right result in success. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, together with the parents and the public who forged reform will evaluate these plans and work with the Governor, the legislature, the State Education Commissioner, and the school districts to shape and implement the contracts to ensure that all of our students graduate high school, compete in the global economy, become active civic participants, and make the constitutional right to a sound basic education a reality."

Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education, said: "Today education reform moves out of Albany and into our classrooms as the State Education Department signs the Contracts for Excellence tying new classroom funding to best educational practices, accountability and educational outcomes. Governor Spitzer is the architect of this reform, he promised to change Albany and in less than one year he has transformed our system of funding education in a dramatic and sensible fashion. New York voters can applaud the dramatic reform of Albany's arcane school aid formula as school funding flows today based on student need not political greed. Today after fourteen years of dysfunction and broken promises, our school children can celebrate the approval of classroom reforms to raise educational outcomes. Thanks to the Contracts for Excellence, taxpayers will be able to see what we are getting for our increased investment. Now we must closely monitor the State Education Department and local school districts to ensure every child receives a quality education."