Board of Regents, not governor, should set education rules

Regent Roger Tilles asked a prescient question during last week’s state Board of Regents meeting that cuts to the heart of the state’s separation of powers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tilles was asking Shannon Tahoe, interim state education commissioner, her thoughts on the digital divide between students and school districts throughout the state with an eye toward online instruction likely being part of the upcoming 2020-21 school year. Tilles asked how the Board of Regents is going to deal with issues of hardware for students, accessibility for students for online learning and the parameters teachers should meet for online learning.

“Are we doing that?” Tilles asked. “Is this group doing that? Or are we going to cede our responsibility to the governor?”

Less than 24 hours later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to collaborate with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a blueprint to reimagine education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Isn’t any blueprint for the future of education in New York state properly in the purview of the state Board of Regents? To our knowledge, the Board of Regents hasn’t ceded any control over education policy making to the governor, unlike the state Legislature. Recall that back in March, it was Democrats in the state Legislature who largely gave control of the state budget as well as extraordinary emergency powers to Cuomo. Even some Democrats who often side with the governor questioned the Legislature’s move to grant the governor such authority.

Issues with online learning have prompted some concern from local school leaders as well as the Board of Regents. One would think the Board of Regents, which has been given the power in the state Constitution to oversee school instruction in New York state, should have the power to guide the future of online teaching. That power should include choosing which organizations the state should partner with. The questions the governor has given to the Gates Foundation could end up having a dramatic impact on education in New York state — who goes to school, who is taught at home, vendors for technology devices and apps, teacher training and a host of other issues.

The Board of Regents is far from perfect, but it exists for a reason. If the board is operating, it should set education policy, not the governor.


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