State Education Commissioner John King has already suspended funding to 10 districts.
ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to withhold state aid from school districts to force tougher evaluations for teachers and principals, as well as other changes to combat what he termed "an education crisis" after years of focusing more on adults' compensation than student performance.
"Education is not really an employment program for adults," the Democrat said Tuesday in his budget presentation, "Somewhere along the way we became more consumed with perpetuating the bureaucracy."
Cuomo's $132.5 billion budget proposal would deny school aid increases to districts that don't have "fully implemented" teacher evaluations by Jan. 17, 2013. If schools aren't acting to create a plan by Sept. 1, they will miss out on millions of dollars in competitive grants, a slice of the proposed 4-percent increase in school aid proposed for 2012-13, Cuomo warned.
State Education Commissioner John King has already suspended funding to 10 districts, including New York City's, that failed to agree with unions on new evaluations for teachers and principals by a Dec. 31 deadline. That deadline was part of the requirements for the state to receive nearly $700 million in federal "Race to the Top" money intended to force better public school performance.
"The federal government wants its money back," Cuomo said Tuesday. "I believe if we implement this system, the federal government will accept this ... that will save us $700 million that we desperately need."
Richard Iannuzzi of the New York State United Teachers union said the governor's plan throws uncertainty into school districts' budgets, and that a 4-percent increase is still short of what schools need to be made whole after last year's deep cut.
"He certainly isn't the first governor who felt a need to have greater control over education, that's a given," Iannuzzi said in an interview. "Obviously, tying that need to state aid doesn't help kids. At the end of the day, school districts and teachers unions need to work collaboratively for the students they serve."
Cuomo's budget also directs 76 percent of his proposed $805 million increase to high-needs schools, restoring an effort suspended last year to try to close the achievement gap between wealthier and poor school districts.
He and the Legislature have already promised to boost school aid 4 percent after cuts a year ago. On Tuesday, he also promised a 3.5 percent increase in the 2013-14 fiscal year, which continues Cuomo's effort to provide two-year budgeting of school and health care aid, the biggest areas of the budget.
"These funds will help students throughout the state," said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, a school aid advocacy group that commended Cuomo for the proposed increase. "We are greatly concerned that almost one-third of these funds could be distributed based on competition between school districts which has the potential to create a system of educational winners and losers among our students."
But the Democratic governor, who promised to become the students' only "lobbyist" in a system he had said catered too much to adults, is also seeking policy overhauls. He wants schools and local unions to share the cost of teacher discipline hearings, which can total well over $100,000 per case and tie up staff for an average of 653 days, usually while the teacher remains employed. Sharing the cost now paid by the state would speed up the process, Cuomo said.
Cuomo's proposal is only a suggestion; he can't force it. He made the request to the state Education Department, which is directed by the Legislature-appointed state Board of Regents.
Governors have often tried to drive changes in public education, most notably when former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, forced the Legislature to allow charter schools to offer public education starting a decade ago. But the lawmakers, closely allied with teachers unions and lobbyist for school aid, have traditionally held most of the clout in how public schools operate.