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Local donors save Jan. Regents exams, but only for one year

Students and principals who were thrown off guard by the state’s decision to cut January 2012 Regents exams can relax: The exams will be offered after all.

Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced triumphantly today that they had secured funding for the exams, which had been eliminated as part of $8 million in cuts to the state’s testing program. But the save came not from the legislators they lobbied but from private donors in New York City, including Bloomberg himself.

With its own budget crunched, the Board of Regents voted in May to eliminate the exams, to the dismay of school administrators and some students who needed to take those exams to graduate. About 150,000 Regents exams are taken each January in the city, and city officials pushed back against the cuts, saying that the exam date was worth its relatively small cost.

Bloomberg and Walcott said today that they asked legislators to restore the funding but turned to private donors when negotiations were unsuccessful. 

Five donors and Bloomberg Philanthropies, the mayor’s private foundation, each donated $250,000 to cover the cost of administering the exams statewide in January 2012. Bloomberg would not identify the other five donors but said they were not government officials, parents of young children, or companies.

Bloomberg stressed that the donations were a “one-time fix,” and he said he would not ask private donors to cover the costs again.

“We just cannot get the private sector to fill in for the state every single time,” Bloomberg said.

“It’s sad in some senses that the state didn’t do what it had to do, but it is heartwarming to know that there are some individuals who care enough about the city and can do what we all know is right,” he said.

Regents Exams are administered in August, January and June of each year, and 2012 would have been the first year without January exams. Students must pass five Regents subject exams to meet the minimum high school graduation requirements in New York.

“For many students the January Regents exams are the gateway from high school to colleges and careers,” Bloomberg said.

Principals who joined Bloomberg and Walcott at the announcement said that without the option to take the January exams, some students would be at a higher risk of dropping out.

“We deal with students who typically struggle with school, so they need the most opportunities as possible to take these high-stakes exams,” said Paul Thompson, principal of the Urban Assembly School of Music and Arts in downtown Brooklyn. “I could have 30 to 40 percent of my students who need to pass a Regents in their senior year.”

Sarah Scrogin, principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future, said several of her students rely on the option to take the exams in January when life circumstances such as incarceration or unplanned pregnancy make it difficult for them to take classes on schedule. Scrogin and Alisa Berger, another principal who spoke at the announcement, criticized the exam eliminations in an op-ed in the New York Daily News last June.

“When things get in the way we often have ways of catching up. That’s what the exams were,” Scrogin said.