With the state facing a severe budget crisis and schools struggling to maintain programs, local districts eagerly anticipate the federal government's "Race to the Top," a $4.35 billion program for educational reform.
But that aid might not be available because of a state law limiting the use of student test scores, a state school boards organization and an assemblyman said Monday.
"Our position right now is that there's a lack of clarity as to whether or not New York is eligible," said David Albert, director of communications for the New York State School Boards Association. "We think we should remove any doubt by repealing that law right now."
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, said he is preparing legislation that would overturn that restriction and include reforms that would boost the state's chances of getting millions of dollars in Race to the Top grants.
"I'm suggesting that we, at the very, very least, eliminate that provision of state law," Hoyt said.
State law now bars school districts from using student test scores to evaluate teachers who are up for tenure. Race to the Top regulations, however, require states, at least in more general ways, to allow the use of student test data in evaluating teachers.
But Richard C. Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union, said that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had assured him last week that the law does not hinder the state's efforts to obtain Race to the Top funds.
"He welcomes an application from New York," Iannuzzi said. "He said there is no bar there, that there is nothing that stands in the way of New York being part of the process."
The state, he argued, should be seeking a large chunk of funding, since "there are many examples here of the kind of initiatives that Race to the Top is looking for."
Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Education Department, declined to comment on the possible impact of the law.
But he said the competition for funding will be stiff and not all states will receive funding.
Race to the Top will focus on funding efforts to turn around low-performing schools; recruit, develop and and retain teachers and principals; establish standards and assessments to prepare students for college and work; and build data systems to measure and guide student progress.
"The competition will not be based on political position, ideology or the preferences of a particular interest group," Duncan said in an earlier news release. "Instead, it will be based on a simple principle -- whether a state is ready to do what works."