New York Gov. David A. Paterson has proposed forward-looking initiatives for higher education and secondary education. Unfortunately, the state Legislature has killed the latter proposal.
The governor seeks legislation that would allow the State University of New York and the City University of New York to set tuition rates and negotiate contracts more freely.
The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act has been lauded by SUNY leaders. SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy said that the measure could reduce bureaucratic impediments and "transform the way SUNY schools will be able to do business."
SUNY campuses would be able to raise tuition rates on their own within a required limit, which would let tuition increase with inflation and even help restore some jobs, according to SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller.
Allowing local campuses more freedom to run their institutions could improve efficiency and enhance education as a whole. Each campus could charge varying rates for different programs. Revenue would be more predictable for each college as it would be able to keep its tuition.
In announcing the reform, Gov. Paterson noted that Albany "micromanages" the system too much, keeping the SUNY colleges from growing and advancing as they could do with freer rein over their own campuses. As it is, the system is needlessly burdened and overregulated, the governor said.
David R. Smith, president of Upstate Medical University, praised the governor's initiative as well as SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher for "bringing about this legislation." Mr. Smith said: "The act provides greater flexibility to all SUNY and CUNY campuses, infusing an entrepreneurial spirit that will allow every campus to be more responsive to the communities we serve." He said it would be "especially helpful" to Upstate.
The state Legislature should help and not hinder this measure, which has met with high praise and shows such promise.
Regrettably, the Legislature let down students and state residents on Mr. Paterson's other education proposal — one to help New York apply for $700 million in federal aid to charter schools.
The governor sought to expand charter schools in the state to improve New York's chance to receive $700 million in Race to the Top federal education funds. The Legislature's Democratic leadership resisted the proposal, blocking Republicans in the Senate from bringing Mr. Paterson's bill to a vote.
By dooming the proposal, legislative leaders showed their intent to restrict charter schools in the state, stifling competition with public schools.
It was a disgusting performance that showed Albany leaders' allegiance to powerful teachers unions rather than students and taxpayers who will pay more for education because Albany turned its back on the federal funds.
The governor is showing leadership on education, but getting the Legislature to cooperate is another story.
Accusing the legislators of failing "the schoolchildren of New York who need this," Gov. Paterson said: "They are setting an example to New York state's schoolchildren, and I don't think it's a particularly good one."