ALBANY, N.Y. December 4, 2007 - In an exclusive sit-down interview with New York State United Teachers' official newspaper, the New York Teacher, Gov. Eliot Spitzer spoke about his commitment to public education and discussed his views on pre-kindergarten, higher education, charter schools and other front-burner issues.
Spitzer agreed to a wide-ranging discussion with NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi for the Dec. 6 edition of the New York Teacher. The full transcript of the discussion is available at nysut.org. Here are excerpts:
Spitzer on the state education budget:
"Well, it's going to be tough. I've been saying this for some time … we are looking right now at about a $4.3 billion budget deficit. That's real money. This is not, unfortunately, a year where we anticipate that revenues will come in higher than anticipated to help bail us out… This year, we do not think that will happen. So we are bracing ourselves for tough decisions. My priorities, and I've said this very clearly, are to protect education. Why is that? Education is our future and therefore I want to do everything we can to keep on that trend line of education spending that we laid out in last year's budget; that is the foundation formula - the allocation of those spending dollars to high-need districts to support teachers, teacher training, smaller class size and all of those inputs that we believe will have a real impact."
Spitzer on improving early childhood education opportunities:
"Universal pre-k is absolutely necessary. We are trying to ensure that as many school districts as possible participate in that program. I doff my hat to (Assembly Speaker) Shelly Silver, who has been pushing this for years and years. Early intervention, early education, early literacy - these are the primary determinants of long-term success. The data is staggering that shows the earlier you have a child reading, the larger the vocabulary of a child at a younger age, the more likely that student is to maintain performance over the years. This is something we are all supportive of and must be supportive of, and we will continue to not only provide the funding but also to ensure, if we can, that all districts participate in this."
Spitzer on federal testing and the teachers' role in accountability:
"I agree that accountability is essential. There are, of course, many ways to measure outcomes. One of them is uniform tests that are applied across the board; but there you have the problem that they vary year to year, and different tests get different outcomes. Other ways to measure accountability are more subjective, but nonetheless are, in my mind, at least as important. A school teacher can say, 'Wait a minute, this student is performing and has made a quantum leap, even if it may not be measured on a standardized test.' But the subjective views of the teacher certainly should play a role in measuring outcomes."
Spitzer on charter schools:
"Let me begin with support for charter schools because innovation is good. Not every innovative idea works, of course, but the only way to determine that which will work and differentiate it from that which will not, is to try it. So, charter schools provide an opportunity in some cases for good experimentation. The problem of charter schools siphoning off money from the more traditional public schools is one we have thought about, and that is why we have talked about creating systems to ensure that funding for the non-charter public schools does not get dissipated. We have tried to backfill that aid to the extent that we can."
Spitzer reflecting on his first year in office:
"I've always said that if you don't learn, if you don't reflect, then you're not doing it properly. We all hopefully take five steps forward, with one or two back, and that's the nature of experimentation - learning, growing. That's the excitement of any new job. It's a constant process of learning, experimenting and trying new things. That's what my job has been, that's what all jobs should be. Whether you're in pre-kindergarten or whether you're governor of a state, that's what life holds out for us."
NYSUT represents 585,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.