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State budget framework takes shape as final deal nears

With a final deal on the 2012-2013 state budget imminent, legislators were racing to hash out the last of several education rifts in a series of closed door negotiations on Monday.

State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced today that he would not stand in the way of releasing teacher data ratings, rebuffing earlier reports that senate lawmakers were considering aligning with the Assembly on the issue. The state teachers union had heavily lobbied senators to back a law that would have either banned or restricted the release of any teacher performance data tied to their evaluations.

“There were discussions in terms of seeing if there was a way you could balance the parents’ right to know and some sort of [teacher] privacy rights, but there’s no resolution of that, so it will stay as it is,” Skelos said outside the Senate chamber this afternoon, according to the Daily News.

Other budgetary loose ends related to education also began to firm up as the day went along. Cuomo struck a deal on how much of the increased state aid should be tied to competitive grants, the Times Union reported. In his preliminary budget, Gov. Cuomo proposed $250 million in competitive grants as part of a proposed $800 million state aid increase. That was met with opposition from lawmakers in both houses and the deal reached Monday reduced Cuomo’s grant total to $50 million, which State Education Commissioner John King advocated for in January.

Another budgetary request from King, a $2.1 million line item for test security measures such as erasure analysis, appears likely to be left out of the budget, several state education officials said today. They said that the proposal was never a major priority for legislators during the budgetary cycle this year.

In backing off from the teacher data privacy proposal, Skelos rescued Cuomo from what could have been an uncomfortable political position. In the weeks since the city released teacher data reports, most top elected and education officials have spoke publicly on the issue, with many of them saying it was a regrettable episode. Mayor Bloomberg is one of the only officials to defend the release.

But Cuomo has remained silent, but an Albany source said that Cuomo likely agreed with Bloomberg’s general view.

“The last thing the Governor wants to do is make him take a position,” the official said. “If both houses pushed for it, he has to veto and he doesn’t want to take a hard stand on this.”

Sean Feeney, the principal who co-authored a petition objecting to the role of state test scores in a teacher’s evaluation, said he was disappointed with Skelos’ decision not to back the law.

“We asked at least to keep those scores private after we saw what happened in New York City and we were hoping that legilsators would come to good senses and protect our schools,” said Feeney, who’s school is in Skelos’ Long Island district. “It’s extremely disappointing that Dean Skelos has reversed course on this.”

“This will change the dynamic of schools and he will look back in five years and hopefully it won’t be too much of a disaster,” Feeney added.