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State restores federal funds for five districts, but not for the city

The state’s thaw over teacher evaluations is extending to federal funds that had been frozen to some districts. But New York City is still out nearly $60 million.

Last month, State Education Commissioner John King cut off the funds, known as School Improvement Grants, to 10 districts that had been receiving them to help overhaul low-performing schools. The districts had not adequately complied with a Dec. 31 deadline to adopt new evaluations for teachers in those schools, King said.

The funding freeze, along with a hefty dose of evaluations pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the last month, sent many of the districts back into negotiations about new teacher evaluations with their local unions. Today, King announced that five of the districts — Albany, Poughkeepsie, Syracuse, Rochester, and Schenectady — had refined their evaluations agreements enough to restart the flow of federal funds.

The other five districts, which include New York City, have all requested hearings to try to convince King that he should restore their funding. The districts all called off hearings scheduled for this week after last week’s statewide evaluation deal, although it was not clear how the deal would have changed what districts planned to say during their hearings.

In a statement, King took aim at districts such as New York City that have not been able to work with their teachers unions to adopt new evaluations that comply with the state’s requirements.

“The evaluation agreements submitted by these five districts are clear evidence that school districts and local unions can come together to craft a meaningful evaluation system,” he said.

City officials said last week that they are focusing on hammering out an evaluation system that would apply in all schools next year and would try to win the SIG funds by adopting a strategy to overhaul the struggling schools that does not require new evaluations. That approach is not at all assured because the city must have new evaluations in place this year in the schools eligible for SIG funds in order to receive them.

The five districts that have now met King’s requirements to receive this year’s SIG funds will have to go back to the negotiating table next year. That’s because the statewide deal changes the rules for local districts’ evaluation systems.

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