CITY HALL — The state’s 2012 January Regents Exams have been restored thanks to $1.5 million in private donations from six New Yorkers, including the billionaire mayor.
The State’s Department of Education had voted in May to eliminate the January tests, citing $1.4 million in cost savings. But critics, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott had blasted the move as a "disaster," arguing that the January exams provide a crucial opportunity for kids to catch up or push ahead without having to wait a full year.
The tests are also offered in June and August.
“That decision put thousands of perspective graduates in a bad spot and in many cases actually put their graduation into jeopardy," Bloomberg told reporters at a press conference at Tweed Courthouse called to announce the plan. “For many students, the January Regents Exams are the gateway from high school to college to careers."
Walcott said the cuts would have been "intolerable."
“We talked to the state over and over again. Unfortunately they did not come through," he said. "They need to step up to the plate."
About 150,000 students took Regents Exams last January, according to city figures.
The $1.5 million total was composed of six donations of $250,000 each. While the mayor declined to name the first five donors, whom he said were all individuals, not companies, he said that Bloomberg Philanthropies did contribute to the funds.
He also defended his decision not to reveal the source of money as well as the idea of using private money to fund a public service, arguing that without it, students would have lost out.
But Both Bloomberg and Walcott insisted the influx of private funding would be a one-shot deal.
“This is just one time shot. A chance to save kids, period," Bloomberg said.
Principals who joined the mayor at the announcement praised the reversal as a huge relief to students who'd counted on the January exams.
Principal Alisa Berger, of the experimental NYC iSchool in SoHo, said that anywhere from 150 to 200 students at her school had been expecting to write the tests in January, both to accelerate
graduation as well as to catch up.
The school now plans to re-introduce classes it had had been forced to cancel because they were scheduled to end in January.
"It really helps kids across the spectrum," she said.
Brooklyn Principal Paul Thompson was even more enthusiastic, hailing the move as "life-changing."
"We were freaking out [about] what students were going to have to do," he said of the cut, which he estimated would have impacted 100 to 150 of the school's 400 students, who rely on the January exams to catch up if they missed their spring or summer graduation dates and also to prepare for the summer exams.
"I'm ecstatic. I just say 'thank you,'" Thompson said.
State Education Commissioner John King Jr. said he was also grateful for the emergency funds and blamed a "structural imbalance in funding for the past several years" for "the difficult decision" to cut the exams.
He said the State Education Department is currently identifying nearly $4 million in cost-saving measures to ensure that its testing program remains in the green for the rest of the year.
"A longer-term solution for adequate funding remains a priority of the Board of Regents," he said.