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Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Karen DeWitt.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Photo: Karen DeWitt.

Schools on Cuomo State of the State list

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivers his State of the State speech on Wednesday. He's expected to talk about a variety of issues, including his goals for New York's schools.

It's only been a few days since Cuomo's Education Reform Commission came out with its recommendations. Some education advocates say there are good ideas in the plan, but there's concern that the commission hasn't addressed the core problem of many North Country districts.

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The New York education reform commission presented its recommendations to Governor Cuomo in a recent cabinet meeting. Commission member, educational activist and longtime Harlem educator Geoffrey Canada told Cuomo that New York's schools are broken.

"If you look at any data set, and you see what's happening in this state to our children, and realize that this is a public function, educating kids, it's what we're supposed to do, and we have failed our kids miserably."

Governor Cuomo agreed that New York has not done right by its students.

"But it is the single most important task that we perform, and we are 100 percent committed to doing what we have to do to improve it and make it right."

Cuomo lauded the work of the education reform commission. It held public hearings around the state earlier this year. Among the things it recommends: full day pre-kindergarten, more school days and hours, and encouraging school districts to consolidate and create regional high schools.

On first hearing the commission's plans, Cuomo had opinions on the various issues.

"On the pre-k, I support that 100 percent. You'll get every kind of report and study that will back that up. Frankly, it's going to be a question of money.

In the North Country, many districts are facing financial and educational insolvency in the next year or two. Some are cutting back on pre-k because they can't afford it now, and it's only a few hours a day, a few times a week.

When it comes to consolidation, it's no secret that Cuomo is pushing for it. 150 rural school districts are considered high needs by the state. But they only serve 150-thousand students. Compare that to New York City - one district serving 1-million students.

There have been moves in some districts like St. Regis Falls and Brushton-Moira to share one superintendent. Cuomo says it makes sense for the smaller districts to work together.

"It runs right into turf, and it runs into the bureaucracy again, and everybody wants to have their own everything and everybody wants to have their own school districts. But we have more bureaucracy than we can afford, we have more back room than we can afford. It's a conversation we have to have, especially in parts of the state where you have fewer students."

Commission member Mike Rebell says the commission took up a lot of interesting issues - things like improving technology, and connecting high schools with colleges and careers.

"In my view, it's kind of the icing on the cake. But the problem is, we don't have the cake."

Rebell is with the Campaign for Educational Equity, and was part of the school funding lawsuit. In 2007, the state agreed to pay billions more to the schools. But in 2009, it made huge cuts to the education budget.

Rebell says that's left many schools unable to provide basic coursework. He says it's the core issue plaguing New York's schools - but the commission failed to deal with it.

"We've got a crisis going on, and the commission heard that at 10 hearings, including the North Country, and time and again, thing on people's minds, was the pressing problems large cuts we've experienced over the years."

In one of last pages of the Commission report, it explains that dealing with school funding issues will be part of the Commission's work in the next year. Rebell doesn't think that's soon enough for many districts in the North Country, and elsewhere.

He and other education leaders, schools, parents, and students are all waiting to hear whether Governor Cuomo hears their plea for increased funding, as they wait for the state of the state address, and soon after, the state budget proposal.

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