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New York Invests $440 Million in Classroom 'Excellence'

November 20, 2007

Buffalo, NY - It took more than a decade of litigation and legislative wrangling, but there's finally a new plan in place to put all of New York State's schools on a level playing field, in terms of academics. Flanked by lawmakers, educators, parents and community leaders in Buffalo, Governor Eliot Spitzer announced a breakthrough agreement to provide $440 million to fulfill "Contracts for Excellence" in 55 school districts. Spitzer says accountability is an important part of the plan.

"The state Education Department will require districts to show they are improving the performance of students with the greatest needs, and to make greater progress in attaining state and federal accountability standards. And the Department will hold them accountable if they fail to do so."

Education advocates say "teachers know best," and they're welcoming the new emphasis on smaller class sizes, early learning efforts and more teaching time. A combination of professional guidance and proven teaching strategies will be used to help bring New York students up to academic speed, no matter which school they attend. Richard Ianuzzi, with New York State United Teachers, is optimistic about the agreement.

"We're looking at things that are good for kids. And teachers having professional development attached, with greater individual attention in the classroom, is a very important piece of meeting the needs of kids."

According to Ianuzzi, a key element of the new excellence agenda is targeting funds to the state's least successful schools, especially those serving students with disabilities and English language learners, as well as historically underfunded districts.

"What we have here is an influx of resources to districts that are struggling academically. So in effect, it becomes an influx to poverty districts. It goes directly to the link between wealth and achievement, in a way that we haven't done in the past."

New York State announced this first-in-the-nation strategy for closing the performance gap of disparate school districts yesterday.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY