Gov to Governments: Keep Cutting

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergThis piece first appeared in Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profiles Viewpoints section.

New York State’s local governments were shielded from the fallout of the Great Recession but did not escape unscathed: Though federal stimulus funds postponed the pain, county government spending across the state and in the Mid-Hudson Valley has now been flat or declining for at least two years. Yet governments are under continuing pressure to find efficiencies. Read more »

Financial Viability of Public Nursing Homes: NY Isn’t Only State Struggling

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Erika Rosenberg New York isn’t alone in struggling with the financial viability of its public nursing homes. Across the country, public nursing home operators are weighing their options in an era of diminishing state and federal reimbursement. Many counties, especially those in the Northeast, are choosing to sell, or contract out management of the homes, in order to stem financial losses.

In New York, 92% of homes had operating deficits in 2010, as CGR detailed in our in-depth report, The Future of County Nursing Homes in New York State. Financial pressures have led 8 of the 33 remaining counties with homes to decide to sell them, and another 5 to actively consider it. If all those potential sales actually occurred, New York would be left with 20 counties with nursing homes, down from 40 just 15 years ago.

From 2005 to 2009, half of states had declines in the number of public nursing homes, compared to 28% that had increases (more recent data aren’t yet available).

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The Long View on Student Testing: Ups and Downs, but Achievement Gap Persists

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Erika RosenbergSummer’s finally here, but just weeks ago students in schools across New York completed state tests that carry bigger stakes than ever before. This is the first year that test scores will feed into teacher evaluations, and with the tests now aligned with the new Common Core curriculum, many observers believe passing rates will decline.

The push-back against testing and increased accountability has grown, and it’s easy to see why. Students, families and schools have seen passing rates decline, felt more pressure to increase performance and wondered whether testing now gets too big a space in education. It’s worth revisiting why and how these changes came about, and examining the long-term trend in performance.

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Promoting Healthy Births – The Challenge of Expanding Early Care

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Erika RosenbergPremature childbirth increases the risk of death or a lifetime of disability and nearly always drives up cost. Early care for expectant mothers can help increase the chances of a healthy, full-term pregnancy. Now that the Supreme Court had upheld national health reform and its mandate to carry health insurance, we might hope to see more expectant mothers receiving care early in their pregnancies. Studies suggest that access to health insurance isn’t the only factor, however.

The nation had set a goal for 2010: 90% of pregnant women getting care in the first trimester of pregnancy. In New York and in the Rochester area, we’re not close: in 2010, 79% of mothers in our region started prenatal care that early, higher than the state rate of 73% but largely unchanged over the past decade.[1] Generally speaking, rates of early access to prenatal care haven’t changed much over the past decade, and neither have rates of problems that prenatal care helps prevent, such as low birth weight. Even more troubling, low-income and minority women tend to be less likely to start care early, another stubborn pattern. Read more »

Grad Rates Rise Despite Tougher Standards

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Erika RosenbergNew York State has been working to make a high school diploma meaningful for most of the past two decades, and the work continues. Since a push toward higher standards began in the mid-1990s, the state tightened graduation requirements twice: first requiring all students to pass 5 Regents exams, then increasing the minimum score to pass from 55 to 65.

Many feared graduation rates would plummet, but recently released data showed they’ve mostly held steady or increased. In the last five years, as the 65 minimum score was applied to more and more tests, the statewide graduation rate increased from 69% to 74%. New York City gained 8 points, rising from 53% to 61%, and the combined rate for students of the 4 next largest cities (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers) also increased from 47% to 53%. Rochester’s performance remained the lowest of the five, with a graduation rate of 46% in 2011.

At the same time, the federal government has gotten tougher about how states are to calculate graduation rates. Starting with the class of 2010, schools had to include every student in their building for even one day in their graduation cohort – the previous threshold had been 5 months. That means schools are held accountable for those students – those who moved or transferred don’t count against them, but missing students are considered dropouts. Read more »

Redistricting Reform in NY – Maybe in 2022?

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Erika RosenbergState lawmakers pulled a neat trick when it came to redrawing the boundary lines of their districts: Though 138 of them (out of 212) signed pledges while running for re-election in 2010 to support redistricting reform, they instead used the usual process under their own control, while promising to do different in 2022. Ten years from now.

It’s not all that surprising, given the political realities: Senate Republicans depend upon redistricting and other elements of the political status quo to maintain control of the chamber despite having less than a quarter of all registered voters enrolled in their party. Assembly Democrats have been all too happy to respect their “gentlemen’s agreement” with the Senate Republicans to each draw the lines in their respective houses. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also promised to support independent redistricting, had other priorities. And voters, well, we don’t care enough about this once-a-decade process of truing up legislative boundary lines to population changes measured by the decennial census to scare the lawmakers into giving up control of it. Read more »

Redistricting in New York: Same Process, Same Outcome – So Far

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Erika RosenbergDespite pledging in 2010 to reform the process of drawing new lines for state legislative districts, lawmakers instead employed the usual process where they themselves make the maps. And the results, released a few weeks ago, were entirely predictable: The proposed maps would likely enhance the current partisan dominance in each house.

In Rochester, this preserves what is an unnecessary fragmentation of the City of Rochester into multiple state Senate districts—three in the current map and four under the proposed maps. It seems indisputable that the interests of an aging urban center and its residents differ sharply from those of suburban or rural communities. The current and proposed maps significantly dilute the voice of the City and its residents. Adding a fourth district leads to an even more curious outcome: the reconfigured District 61 puts the University of Rochester, one of the key drivers of the Greater Rochester economy, into the same district as the University of Buffalo. And the new lines for District 59 places RIT into another Erie County-dominated district. As Tom Richards, Mayor of Rochester, observed at the recent Rochester redistricting hearing, the state’s new economic development model is a competitive one—while we may have common cause with Buffalo in Washington, we certainly compete with Buffalo in Albany.  See the City’s analysis here.

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What to do with Failing Schools

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Erika Rosenberg

Closing failing schools and replacing them with new–hopefully better–schools is at the heart of the Portfolio Plan strategy in place in the Rochester City School District. It sure sounds appealing, especially to those who have long felt that education is a world shielded from the consequences of failure. But does it work?

The answer is critically important, not only for the obvious reason that we all want effective schools for children, but also because closing a school necessarily means dismantling a school community. Perhaps that community was dysfunctional, unhealthy, even dangerous, but it was still the daytime home for the students and staff members in it.

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Taxes, salaries and benefits must be on the agenda

Posted by & filed under CGR Staff.

Erika RosenbergDespite the scale of the state’s financial problems, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo and the wizards in the Department of Budget could probably find ways to paper over them for a few years and hope an eventual rebound in revenues will eliminate the need to inflict any real pain.

But to be considered truly successful, Cuomo should embrace the challenge of putting the state, local governments and schools on a path toward a long-term stable financial future. Read more »

Discuss the Property Tax Cap

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Erika RosenbergShouldn’t we at least talk about the notion of capping school property taxes?

A recent poll found 74% of New Yorkers think it’s a good idea. A commission appointed by our previous governor recommended it after several months of study and more than a dozen public meetings around the state.

And yet, the state Legislature is poised to adjourn for the year without seriously considering the idea. There were no legislative hearings on the commission’s report, and Gov. David Paterson couldn’t even get his bill to cap property taxes introduced in the Legislature.

Whether or not you think capping school property taxes is a good idea (full disclosure: I do), what does it say about our legislative process that an idea with such broad appeal addressing a problem that is clearly impacting on millions of New York residents isn’t taken seriously by our lawmakers?

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