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New York celebrates win of $700 million for education

Long Island schools will share more than $15

Long Island schools will share more than $15 million in federal funds that was awarded the state. (Oct. 20, 2009) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Compromises on more charter schools and linking teacher evaluations to student test scores helped New York State go from also-ran to winner in the federal Race To The Top competition, officials said Tuesday.

Grades for the state's application increased substantially from March because it fit better with President Barack Obama's drive to reform elementary and secondary education. In awarding $696.6 million, federal officials took note of the State Legislature raising the charter school cap, despite intense opposition from the teachers' union, and a deal between that union and the State Education Department allowing student performance to be used in judging teachers.

After months of acrimony, New York's win brought jubilation to Gov. David A. Paterson, federal and state lawmakers, union leaders and educators. The praise was abundant and the relief palpable.

"It proves what the State Legislature can accomplish through cooperation, collaboration and compromise," said State Sen. John Sampson of Brooklyn, leader of the Democratic majority.

However, the one-time grant will not make up for this year's $1-billion-plus reduction in state aid. The federal money, part of Obama's push to boost student performance, can be used for turning around failing schools, improving teacher training and tracking student achievement, among other specific items.

Paterson's budget office also cautioned the federal grant cannot be used to lower school property taxes or rehire teachers laid off because of less state aid. But some of those jobs are expected to be saved, thanks to $607.5 million in federal stimulus payments approved separately earlier this month.

In Round I of the competition, Delaware and Tennessee placed while New York was a finalist. Tuesday, New York came in behind Massachusetts, and both were among nine states and the District of Columbia splitting about $3.3 billion.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-Brooklyn), noting the struggle in Albany to lift the cap on charter schools in particular, said New York's victory could spur big education changes in other states. He aggressively lobbied U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, saying not to recognize New York would undermine Obama's incentives to states to overhaul their school systems.

School boards also warned the federal money would not remedy the looming fiscal crisis. "This award will not solve all of New York's education woes," said Timothy Kremer of the state School Boards Association. "It will not replace the $1.4-billion cut in school aid that forced some school districts to lay off teachers, close schools and cut programs."

With Tom Brune

State & Region