Larry Sharpe on the trail (photo: @Sharpe4Gov)
Larry Sharpe has a radical plan to reshape New York’s education system. The Libertarian candidate for governor, Sharpe has been campaigning vigorously around the state, making lively and entertaining media appearances, and putting forth substantive policy proposals far different from those typically discussed in mainstream state politics by the two major political parties.
Among those is Sharpe’s education plan. A former marine and University of Maryland graduate who spent some of his youth in the Bronx, Sharpe characterizes the costs of education as unsustainable, and in dire need of reform, both in terms of policy and funding. He proposes several outside-the-box policies and engages only slightly in some of the more traditional education debates, such as over charter schools and foundation aid formulas from the state to localities. He’s thinking of much more sweeping change, detailing his platform during interviews and in a policy paper released by his campaign.
At the core of his plan is a proposal to make mandatory public education in the state end at 10th grade, upon which Sharpe says that “most of the major schoolwork has already been completed and most remaining courses are electives and, for many students, college prep.” Though for too many, he says, 11th and 12th grade have too little academic rigor and purpose, too many gym classes and study halls.
In Sharpe’s proposal, students would graduate upon passing an exam at the end of 10th grade and have a series of options in front of them. With New York spending an average of more than $20,000 per year per pupil, the highest in the nation, this would free up significant funds.
Sharpe would make grants of $20,000 available to each student over the course of several years to spend on a selection of options including prep schools, which would proliferate, he believes, under his plan, to entice that newly available money and help students become ready for higher education. In what he describes as something of a GI Bill for New York youth, Sharpe would also allow the money to be used for trade school or other training programs, or even to start a business. Students could also earn an associate’s degree, he said, then pursue a bachelor’s if college is right for them.
“When we go off to college most of the time, it is 13th grade,” Sharpe said on the Max & Murphy radio show on WBAI. “You can check out all the studies. Ask anyone who has been there, our kids are not ready for college. It takes about six years for the average kid to graduate college, we should be ashamed of that.”
Sharpe also thinks that standardized tests should be done away with prior to high school, to let students learn and teachers teach without the pressure and undue influence of the exams, and that decisions on curriculum, programs, and other facets of education policy should be left at the local level.
He envisions a loss of $4 billion in federal education grant money as a result of abandoning standardized testing and Common Core learning standards, which would allow for greater experimentation in education policy, while the $4 billion deficit would be made up for with the savings from the elimination of 11th and 12th grades, he says.
“So what did I just do? I replaced all of the federal money, plus more, and provided a surplus and allowed local school districts to get rid of unnecessary administrators,” he said. “All of that happened without one extra tax dollar.”
His plan also includes severely cutting administrative staff within the school system, characterizing them as overpaid and contributing little to the system, only drawing a large paycheck and needed only because of all the overbearing federal and state regulations that he plans to either do away with or extricate New York from.
“The average administrator makes over six figures, you can easily let some of these administrators go,” he said. “You let some of these administrators go, what can you do? Teachers will have more freedom, but not just that. Teachers will have more raises, or hire more teachers, or do things that a local district should do.”
In 2016, New York’s highest-in-the-nation spending was roughly $22,366 per pupil, about 90 percent more than the national average of $11,762, according to the US Census Bureau, though numbers vary widely among New York school districts, with rich districts spending far more per pupil. That year, total spending in New York’s public schools, via local, state, and federal money, was $61.4 billion. This year, the state increased its school spending yet again, by $912 million, up to $26.7 billion total in state funds.
The state’s funding formula, Foundation Aid, plays a part in the funding inequality: a USA Today investigation in 2016 found that the formula uses obsolete data and doesn’t reduce aid to a locality, even if migratory shifts take place. A report from the State Association of School Business Officials in 2016 found that rich districts spend about $5,800 more per pupil on average than poor districts. Sharpe has noted these issues and proposes doing away with local spending on schools, having everything go through the state in an effort to make things more equal.
There's been little discussion of K-12 or higher education during the gubernatorial campaign from frontrunners Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat seeking a third term, and Republican Marc Molinaro, though Molinaro recently released a plan for reimagining services for people with developmental and physical disabilities that includes elements related to K-12 and workforce education. In their recent debate, Cuomo and Molinaro both said they believe in expanding charter schools and school choice, hot button education issues that often dominate the conversation. Sharpe says he believes in choices, as outlined above, but as he recently told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, he does not foresee much role for charter schools if his education plan is realized.
Ben Max contributed to this story.