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Also in Cuomo’s budget: restored exams and other ed initiatives

The fight over teacher evaluations occupied much of Gov. Cuomo’s education talk during his budget address today. But his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts in April actually contains a host of other education policy proposals.

Here are some details about each of them. Cuomo’s budget proposes to:

  • Make more funding dependent on performance. Cuomo announced a first round of competitive grants for districts that boost test scores and cut costs a year ago and started taking applications in November. Today, he steered another $250 million in competitive grants into that program.
  • Target school aid to high-needs districts. A little more than $300 million of the $800 million in school aid increases will be targeted to the state’s highest-need districts. The Alliance for Quality Education — whose head, Billy Easton, has drawn criticism from Cuomo’s camp for being “a paid lobbyist for the teachers union” — praised the decision but raised concerns about the competitive component of the state aid proposal.
  • Reverse budget cuts to the state’s testing program. Last year, the Board of Regents closed a budget gap by slashing $8 million from the state’s testing program. The cut caused the state to eliminate January Regents exams, which some high school students must pass to graduate. In August, Mayor Bloomberg announced that private donors had pitched in to pay for the tests for one year. Next year, public funds will pay for the tests once again.
  • Speed teacher discipline hearings. Cuomo’s proposal would set time limits for teacher discipline hearings and require districts and local unions to pitch in for the cost of hearings. Right now, the state covers the entire cost of hearings, which Cuomo said gives districts little incentive to move quickly through the hearings. Last May, state education officials said New York City’s 3020-a hearings have become a model for the state since the city and UFT agreed to close the “rubber rooms” for teachers charged with misconduct. But the city wants additional reforms.
  • Continue the Contracts for Excellence program. Since 2007, a pot of state funds has been earmarked for specific purposes, including reducing class size and extending the school day. The earmarks started to satisfy the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and over time have been frozen, scaled back, and frozen again. Critics charge that the city has misused the funds it has already received, but the city says three years of budget cuts would have taken a larger toll on class sizes and other initiatives without the funds. Next year, districts will get the same amount as they did this year, according to Cuomo’s plan.

The budget proposal also outlines a plan to reduce ballooning preschool special education costs and to streamline school bus purchasing practices.

The complete budget briefing is below.