New Senate Proposal Will Empower Governor Spitzer To Pick Education Commissioner

Martin J. Golden

March 11, 2007

State Senator Martin J. Golden(R-C, Brooklyn) joined colleagues in the New York State Senate this week in sponsoring legislation to reform and improve accountability within New York’s public education system by empowering the Governor to appoint the Commissioner of Education.

This reform would enable voters across New York to hold the State’s top elected official -- the Governor -- accountable for the performance of the public school system. While the Governor currently appoints the heads of other large agencies, such as the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Transportation, the Commissioner of Education is selected by the Board of Regents, which is not directly accountable to voters. The proposal is similar to the landmark 2002 New York City school governance reform/mayoral control legislation, which continues to produce strong signs of progress and positive results.

“The need for this important reform can be summed up in two words -- more accountability," said Senator Martin Golden. "The historic New York City Mayoral Control law was clearly a step in the right direction because it enabled parents throughout the City to hold someone accountable for the
direction and performance of their school system. The Governor, regardless of party, should have the same type of responsibility for the direction and performance of our education system on a statewide basis."

Since the implementation of the New York City Mayoral Control legislation in 2002, the City school system has continued to demonstrate significant signs of progress and success. According to the testimony delivered to the Senate Finance Committee by Chancellor Klein last month:

“Students at all grade levels have achieved real gains in math and reading—progressing at substantially higher rates than students in the rest of the state...our fourth-graders have gained almost 19 percentage points in math over the past four years, compared to almost 5.5 points gain by fourth-graders in the rest of the state. In English, our fourth-graders have gained almost 12.5 points, compared to only 3.5 points by students in the rest of the state. Graduation rates are higher than they’ve been in more than 20 years. The City’s schools are safer, class sizes are smaller, teachers are paid 43 percent more, and the Department has cut more than $270 million from the bureaucracy and redirected it to schools and classrooms where it can help students learn.”

Upon adoption of this reform, New York would join states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Texas, Virginia, Delaware, Iowa, Minnesota, Tennessee and Maine where the Governor is empowered to select the state's chief education officer.

New York’s educational system has long been criticized for having a lack of accountability to the public. Currently, one house of the Legislature essentially has control over the selection process of members of the Board of Regents, who in turn select the Commissioner to serve as the head of the State Education Department and as President of the University of the State of New York.

The nonpartisan proposal being advanced by the Senate would streamline the process and make it more efficient by empowering the Governor, regardless of political party, to appoint the Education Commissioner. This would allow the current and future Governors to more effectively implement their education policies, initiatives, and budget priorities.