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Cuomo profiles New York City’s worst-performing schools in new report

Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a broad overhaul of state education policy last year.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushed for a broad overhaul of state education policy last year.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor

A day after Mayor Bill de Blasio traveled to Albany to try to convince state lawmakers that he should remain in charge of turning around the city’s lowest-performing schools, Gov. Andrew Cuomo challenged that assertion with a new report highlighting those schools’ struggles.

The report focuses on the 178 schools that Cuomo singled out as the worst in the state in his education-focused budget proposal last month, more than half of which are in New York City. Its contents offer little new to the debate over how to fix underperforming schools, besides reiterating grim metrics: Few students are proficient in reading or math, and graduation rates are far below the state average.

How to improve public education has become a flashpoint in the governor’s relationship with de Blasio. But whereas last year’s battle centered around charter schools, the two men are now at odds over how long to wait before taking more drastic measures in struggling schools.

The report aims to bolster Cuomo’s argument that the state should be allowed to seize control of the schools and hand them over to outside organizations. Cuomo’s takeover plan would allow “receivers” to restructure the low-ranked schools, overhaul their curriculums, and override labor agreements in order to fire “underperforming” teachers and administrators.

It also serves as a response to Cuomo’s critics who say schools are struggling in part because they are underfunded. Most districts in the report spend significantly more per student than the national average, $10,608, and that schools have continued to struggle even as funding increased. (New York City spent $20,226 per student and has received a 13 percent increase in state aid over the last three years.)

“This is the real scandal in Albany, the alarming fact that state government has stood by and done nothing as generation after generation of students have passed through failing schools,” Cuomo said in a statement accompanying a press release about the report.

Fifty-two of the city schools highlighted in the report are already a part of de Blasio’s signature school-improvement initiative, which gives school staff extra support and resources and three years to improve. De Blasio defended the plan in Albany on Wednesday and argued that Cuomo’s three-year extension of mayoral control in New York City was insufficient.

“This is an aggressive and exhaustive effort, and we will hold these schools – and our system as a whole – accountable for serious improvement,” education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement about the Renewal Schools. The report also includes 18 city schools that will soon close, a process that began during the Bloomberg administration.

The struggling-schools showdown will be ratcheted up again next week, when advocacy groups aligned with the governor are planning to bring thousands of parents, teachers, and students to Albany for a rally in support of Cuomo’s proposal. The city teachers union is planning its own lobbying event on the same day.

The two leaders don’t seem likely to land on the same page. As de Blasio defended his turnaround program on Wednesday, Cuomo held a press conference during which he dismissed de Blasio’s points, though the two later had a discussion de Blasio described as “productive.”

Groups that have been protesting Cuomo’s education proposals said his report was too dismissive of the funding gap between poor and wealthy districts in the state.

“Inequality in how public schools are funded has reached record levels since this governor took office,” said Andrew Palotta, a vice president with the state teachers union.

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