Wednesday, January 11, 2017

NYS Constitutional Amendment: If Not Now, When? Bernard Gassaway, Ed.D.

The public school student performance data for New York State (NYS) is evidence that the education system has not worked for the majority of its children. Historically, Blacks, Hispanics, students with special needs, and English language learners have not performed on par with their White and Asian peers.

There is no evidence that significant changes in the performance outcomes will occur under the current public school system. Strategic and sound changes in the state’s education governance structure are required to stimulate significant public school reform to meet the learning needs of all children.

An amendment to the NYS Constitution is required to restructure the public education governance structure.

NYS Constitutional Amendment Options (examine and debate)

·      Abolish NYS Board of Regents Oversight of K-12 education
·      Eliminate New York City’s single school district. Establish five districts (one per borough). Elect five superintendents (eliminate ‘chancellor’ model)
·      Constitutionalize school choice (e.g., education savings accounts, education tax credits, vouchers, tax credit scholarships, homeschooling, cyber, etc.)
·      Change governance from legislative to gubernatorial maintenance and support of public education (governor appoints state commissioner of education)
·      Elect state commissioner of education
·      Institute mandatory funding formula to ensure equitable school funding


The governor of NYS has limited powers when it comes to shaping public education policy. The governor’s primary means of influence is funding. Education funding is determined after the governor, speaker of the Assembly and majority leader of the Senate do their annual rounds of budget negotiations.

The Assembly selects 17 members of the NYS Board of Regents, which determines education policy. They also choose the state’s commissioner of education. The commissioner of education implements the policies of the Board of Regents and establishes regulations for the nearly 700 local school districts, each of which is led by a superintendent.

Reform Questions

·      In what ways, if any, should New York’s education governance structure be changed to improve teaching and learning?
·      What roles, if any, should the governor play in governing public education?
·      What role, if any, should the Assembly and Senate play in public education governance?
·      How, if at all, should the NYS Board of Regents be restructured to better meet the learning needs of all children in New York State?
·      How should mayoral or local control of public schools be determined?
·      In what ways, if any, should the following original education clause in New York’s constitution be revised to address the current flaws in the governance of public education in New York State? “The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.”

Why Now

From county to county, upstate to downstate, New York’s students with disabilities, Hispanics, Blacks, and English language learners are not experiencing the same levels of achievement as Whites and Asians.

New York is home to one of the most segregated public school systems in America.

At no time since reading and mathematics standardized test results for NYS began to be recorded have students’ proficiency levels risen above 50%, particularly for students with disabilities, Blacks, Hispanics, and English language learners.

Claims of increases in New York’s high school graduation rates are misleading, given that the majority of its students disproportionately lack sufficient preparation for college.


New York’s public school system is not working for the majority of its children. There are pockets of excellence scattered throughout the state. However, there is no evidence that public education is heading in the right direction for its poor, students with special needs, English language learners, Blacks, and Hispanics.

The public continues to debate the need for additional funding for public education and the need for increased parental choice; yet frankly, even if funding were doubled, little would likely change for the children who are most disenfranchised by the public school system, unless there is a fundamental change in the governance of the state’s current school system.

Nelson Mandela was correct when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Use education to change and expand opportunities for all New Yorkers. Amend the state’s constitution to begin a real era of reform in public education.

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