AQE Releases Report: "Contracts for Excellence Year One: Grading the State Education Department"

Expects More than Twice as Much Money to be Covered by Contracts for Excellence in 2008.

In four press conferences across the state, the Alliance for Quality Education released a report entitled Contracts for Excellence Year One: Grading the State Education Department, which evaluates the State Education Department’s oversight of the 2007 Contracts for Excellence. The report praises the State Education Department (SED) for overseeing the creation of new education programs in school districts around the state, playing an assertive oversight role with school districts, and making school districts target funds to needy schools. The report determines the SED fell short in the areas of public participation, full information disclosure and meeting the needs of English language learners. The Contract for Excellence is the new accountability system designed by Governor Spitzer that ties record increases in education aid to the best educational practices. While the report makes several recommendations for improvements to the Contracts based on the findings, AQE, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and others, note that the funding for the Contracts is scheduled to more than double next year as part of the $1.24 billion foundation aid increase expected to be in the Governor’s budget. The 2008 funding is the second installment of the state’s four-year commitment to increase classroom-operating aid (called foundation aid) by $5.5 billion.

“Our report shows that while there is room for improvement, the Contracts for Excellence are essential to the educational success of students,” said Maurice Mitchell of the Alliance for Quality Education. “The Contracts for Excellence focus on delivering educational results. Like any other contract in the world the Contract for Excellence ties funds to results. The increase of $1.24 billion expected in 2008 means we can expect school districts to deliver more in terms of educational results.”

The report finds that the New York State Education Department (SED) required districts to target funds to students in low performing schools, students with disabilities, English language learners and students from low income families. These students—as defined by law—are students with the greatest educational needs. However, the report also points out SED’s shortcomings surrounding public participation and transparency requirements.

Key Findings in Grading the State Education Department

A wide variety of education reforms were implemented across the state under the Contracts for Excellence.
School districts were required to target 75% of Contract for Excellence funds to schools with the highest concentrations of high need students and to guarantee that all low performing schools received a fair proportion of total Contract dollars.

The State Education Department played an effective oversight role by requiring several districts, most notably New York City, to reallocate funds within their Contracts.
Very few districts articulated in their Contracts specific programs to meet the needs of English language learners despite the fact that over 200,000 English language learners are in our schools.

Eighty-nine percent (89%) of school districts did not comply with the public participation requirements of the Contracts for Excellence.

The State Education Department, and most school districts, fell considerably short of full disclosure of Contract for Excellence documents and procedures.

Commenting on proposals to increase Long Island’s share of state aid, Rosa Quiles of the Puerto Rican Coalition said, “We support additional state aid for Long Island’s schools but not without accountability measures and assurance that it will target students with the highest needs like English Language Learners and students with disabilities, that’s what the Contract for Excellence give us.”

“The contracts are showing promise. There’s a chance our kids can get the tools they need to succeed. We just need to make sure that the voice of parents are heard when deciding how to use the resources” said Camille Serrano, parent of children in the Brentwood school district. Serrano went on to say, “It’s a shame that Central Islip, Hempstead, and other local school districts don’t also have a contract. We need to make sure more schools get these contracts.”

The 2007 Contracts for Excellence expenditures statewide totaled $428 million in 55 school districts with schools the state has classified as needing improvement. The Governor and Legislature enacted legislation this year that commits the state to a $7 billion four-year phased-in increase in education aid. AQE estimates that approximately $500 million additional dollars will be covered by the Contracts for Excellence as a result of the 2008 state budget, more than doubling the total funds covered by the Contracts.