Governor George E. Pataki surprised New York City schools advocates with a series of education proposals in his January 2000 State of the State address aimed at expanding the State's public school teaching force. The measures put education at the center of his annual address for the first time in the five years he's been in office. New initiatives include college scholarships for 5,000 undergraduates a year who pledge to teach in designated areas, and $2,000 for teachers with temporary licenses to help them achieve permanent certification. Citing famous New Yorkers Colin Powell and Billy Joel, who, theoretically, are barred from teaching under current certification rules, the Governor also proposed creating an alternate credentialing route for people who have established themselves in other fields.
Public school advocates reacted with a mixture of enthusiasm and skepticism. Jill Chaifetz, director of Advocates for Children, said, "We think these are terrific ideas. The only thing is, just a year ago the governor vetoed a slew of proposals just like these." State Assemblyman Steven Sanders, Democrat of Manhattan, chair of the Education Committee, said, "This is the same Governor who vetoed out of existence a teacher mentoring program that had been in the budget for years. So I can't help but be a little bit skeptical of his sincerity. Maybe the latest poll results influenced him but whatever the reason, I'm pleased."
Farber Sounds Off:
The New York City public school system has a huge staffing problem ahead. Of the 75,000 teachers currently in the system, 50,000 will become eligible for retirement within the next few years. In other words, the governor's initiatives, if they are funded fully, a big if -- don't go far enough. Jill Chaifetz, director of Advocates for Children, says, "There was this huge influx of teachers sort of as part of the baby boom and now they're all hitting retirement age. The Governor's proposal is so much better than what we have now. But 5000 is only beginning to touch the shortage." Governor Pataki and the legislature are going to have to work together a lot harder to expand New York City's teaching staff, or City kids will never meet the state's tough, welcome, new academic standards.
Peggy J. Farber is freelance journalist specializing in children's issues. Her reporting on conditions of NYC children has appeared in City Limits Magazine as well as on National Public Radio.