Gov. David Paterson said Monday he wasn't surprised that New York missed out on up to $700 million in federal education grants, but he believes the Legislature can act to give the state a strong entry for the next round of funding.
Paterson said he thinks New York could have won $500 million to $700 million in the Obama administration's "Race to the Top" program to improve public schools if the Legislature made two changes he urged: lifting the cap on the number of charter schools in the state from the current 200 and ending a measure that prohibits student performance from being considered in granting tenure for teachers.
Both were opposed by the state's powerful teachers unions, which Paterson says also worked against New York's application. Charter schools are privately operated schools that compete with traditional public schools for students and per-pupil aid.
"Some of my colleagues don't know what the elements of victory are, or they just deliberately blew off the chance of getting this money," Paterson said. His budget proposal during the state's fiscal crisis calls for a $1.4 billion cut in public school aid, which now stands at $21 billion.
The Assembly's Democratic majority seeks the restoration of some of the school aid in the budget due by Thursday, but it still proposes an $800 million cut to contend with a $9.2 billion deficit.
"We need the money," Paterson said. "I think it's one of those situations where we can't afford the luxury of letting ideological differences get in the way."
The Senate and Assembly Democratic majorities earlier this year proposed bills to improve the state's chances but added several measures including those that required greater accountability of charter schools.
Federal officials on Monday awarded Tennessee and Delaware $600 million in grants. Forty states and Washington, D.C., applied for the grant program, and 16 finalists were named this month. Any state can apply for the second round of grants, with applications due in June.
Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of the New York Stated United Teachers, said the union will work on a new application but cautioned: "This should not be about trading values for dollars. First and foremost, it's about what's good for kids and what is fair to communities and teachers."
The Senate's Republican minority called for swift action.
"There is time to improve the state's position to receive money from round two," said Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Nassau County. "The Legislature should raise the cap on charter schools as part of the state budget."
Senate Conference Leader John Sampson, a Brooklyn Democrat, said the Legislature will "not stop running toward the goal of long-term educational improvement."
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, a Buffalo Democrat and a leading advocate of charter schools, said that while other states "took dramatic action, New York state did nothing.
"It is clear that the Obama administration is serious in demanding that states make changes to accomplish real reform," Hoyt said. "Our approach last time was to try to skirt by with the bare minimum that didn't work."