With a historic increase in state education spending, the debate should no longer be about dollars, Gov. Eliot Spitzer said in an address to RA delegates.
"We increased the education budget by $1.8 billion, an enormous increase," Spitzer said. "In year four, that increase will be $7 billion. We're doing what we need to do, now it's up to school districts to use that money wisely."
New York's 54th governor also mused about following U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton in addressing the RA: "What an amazing president she will be. She's a tough act to follow," he said.
Thanking NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi for his leadership in building support for the budget, Spitzer said it's important "that we're working to explain what we put in the budget and why we will craft a future budget for every New Yorker."
Education is more important than ever, Spitzer said, with the concentration of wealth shifting farther away from the middle class.
"We've gone from a society where the most remarkable creation was the middle class, who shared the success of the community, to a society that has forgotten those not doing well," Spitzer said.
If we are to compete and generate creativity so the next technological advance will be created and produced here, he added, "We must educate our children."
To silence those pundits who say education spending is already too high, the historic investment will have to be followed by results.
Spitzer noted that graduation rates released recently by the State Education Department show only 67 percent of students statewide graduate from high school in four years — an unacceptable statistic. "That's only two-thirds — that's a failing grade," Spitzer said.
A focus on proven techniques, including universal pre-kindergarten, smaller class sizes and more teacher professional development must be part of the solution, Spitzer said.
And perhaps a change in language is necessary.
"From now on, I hope CFE will stand for 'Contract for Excellence,'" Spitzer said, referring to a funding stream under his new foundation formula that directs more aid to the neediest districts.
Schools and government will need to work together to generate results, Spitzer said, noting the federal government must also meet its responsibilities. "NCLB is meaningless until it's funded," he said.
For now, he said, the focus must be on results.
"We need to put our heart and soul into this effort so next year when I go to the legislators I have to be able to say, 'Here is the return we're getting.'"