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State Legislature must not ignore the desperate need to improve education

The State Senate and Assembly have passed their one-house budget bills that, among other things, call for greatly increased spending on education while meeting none of the related goals Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set out in his January budget message.

It’s politics as usual in this spendthrift state, but Cuomo will have none of it. A spokeswoman responded to lawmakers’ push by declaring that the governor “will not continue the failed strategy of throwing money at a broken education bureaucracy that has failed hundreds of thousands of New York’s children for years without meaningful reform and accountability.”

It’s unanswerable, at least not by politicians or educators who are being honest with themselves and their constituents. New Yorkers spend more on education per pupil than any other state, yet we produce results that are no better than average, and sometimes worse. Who can defend continuing to support such a broken system, let alone one that is groaning away in the nation’s highest-taxed state?

Yet, that is what is happening. The new Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, offered an incomprehensible rejection of Cuomo’s insistence on reforms by observing that “We must help our children to succeed, not punish them because they may live in poorer communities or deny their schools the funding they need to improve the learning environment.”

How about not punishing them with teachers who need to improve their performances?

How about not punishing them by using the limited supply of tax dollars more effectively?

How about not punishing them by adopting policies that take heed of the wise observation that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

Cuomo is offering – demanding – that New York start doing things differently. If legislators will agree, Cuomo is prepared to reward schools with significantly more money.

But the teachers unions don’t want reforms and too many legislators live in their moneyed pockets. That’s what the crying about evaluations, spending and the Common Core are mainly about: preserving the wretched, costly, dysfunctional status quo.

No one likes change, and least of all public-sector unions. Their members live in an economic bubble, insulated to a significant extent against the forces that require attention by both labor and management in the private sector. Companies can go out of business; school districts can’t. It’s a fact that encourages obstinacy in many public-sector unions and, in schools, children pay the price.

That’s not to say that teachers have it easy. They can be laid off, just as private-sector workers can, and their work can be enormously challenging, as in Buffalo, home to thousands of students for whom English is a foreign language.

But that is why standards are important, why fair evaluations are important, why reforms that keep costs under control are important.

The governor should stick to his guns.