Cuomo addresses future of education in state

Gov. Andrew Cuomo believes education is the best long-term investment that New York state can make in the growth of its economy.

On Wednesday, Cuomo delivered his 2014 State of the State address, in which he heralded the state’s educational accomplishments from the past year, and outlined plans for moving forward.

“We want New York state to have the best education system in the world,” Cuomo said. “That’s our focus. We are in the midst of an education reinvention, replacing a 1950s bureaucracy with a 2020 performance organization The next step in our journey is to reinvent our classrooms with new technology. We must transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow.”

He said utilizing advancements in technology within a classroom setting would be the “great equalizer” in spite of the current disparity among districts throughout the state, comparing schools using sophisticated new computer systems at the first-grade level with those in which the most sophisticated piece of technology is the metal detectors students must traverse while entering the building.

“That is just wrong in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We can do better, we must do better and we will do better. Let’s invest in the future. Let’s reimagine our classrooms for the next generation. Let’s have the smartest classrooms in the nation because our children deserve nothing less than the best.”

In order to accomplish this, Cuomo said he intends to seek a bond referendum for participation in the Smart Schools Initiative, through which the state can invest $2 billion in funding for the purpose of upgrading technology in schools. He said there will be strict eligibility in the use of Smart Schools Initiative funds, and districts must submit a technology plan for approval before receiving funding.

Cuomo also lauded the creation of the New York state Master Teachers program this year, which was established to reward and support master science and math teachers throughout the state.

“Quality teachers are the backbone of our education system,” Cuomo said, stating the importance of awarding performance by creating a rewards program for those who perform well.

In its first selection round, which recognized a total of 105 teachers statewide, two were selected from Chautauqua County: Tim Cook of Sherman Central School, and Lon Knappenberger of Westfield Academy and Central School.

Cuomo furthered his belief in rewarding teacher performance by recapping the implementation of the Annual Professional Performance Review system in New York schools.

“Linking state funding to performance works,” Cuomo said. “The first year we asked schools to complete teacher evaluations, we basically had no compliance. In year two, we linked the teacher evaluation system with a 4 percent increase in education (funding) and we had near unanimous approval. We believe linking the assistance to performance is going to make a difference.”

Under the APPR system, Cuomo said teachers ranking in the best efficiency category – known as “highly effective” – would be eligible to receive a $20,000 bonus in performance pay; which he said is a statewide average of 27 percent of teacher salaries. He said this will be accomplished by creating a statewide Teacher Excellence fund.

“If you want teachers who can perform, and who do perform, then incentivize performance with a performance bonus, and pay them like the professionals they are,” he said.

Cuomo also discussed the continuation of his push for a statewide full-day universal prekindergarten program, which is a lingering issue from last year’s State of the State address, saying now is the time to implement such a program.