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Lawmakers seize on Klein-time to complain about his control

klein-critics-albany
Only one of these four state lawmakers had praise for Joel Klein today during his testimony on budget cuts: The woman on the bottom right, Assemblywoman Barbara Clark of Queens.

How much do lawmakers in Albany dislike Joel Klein? The chancellor fielded a flurry of criticisms today after his testimony before a joint session of the legislature. And only some of the criticisms had anything to do with the subject of the day, budget cuts. The rest politely slammed Klein on the one Albany fight where he’ll really need their help: mayoral control of the public schools.

Klein desperately wants to preserve control as it is, but many lawmakers said they aren’t happy with the law or with how he’s led as chancellor. The criticism was so persistent that, at one point, Klein plead with lawmakers to keep their opinion of him out of their thoughts on mayoral control. “Whatever you think about me personally,” he said, “you need the stability of that kind of leadership to transform education.”

Assemblyman Herman Farrell of Manhattan dedicated all of his questions for Klein to the mayoral control subject. “We’ve had what I call a silencing of the lambs,” he said. “I don’t know who speaks for the parents, who speaks on behalf of the parents.” Farrell then proposed a way to bring debate back to the running of the schools: He wants to create a second position called “sub-chancellor” or “uber-chancellor” — someone to take on the regular chancellor.

Assemblyman William Colton, who represents southern Brooklyn, made a similar complaint: “There seems to be a feeling among parents that they don’t have the input or the ability to be listened to,” he said.

Other lawmakers criticized Klein’s policies. State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan said she believes there is too much testing in schools, and she asked for a detailed estimate of how much tests and test prep cost the city. Another lawmaker asked that the chancellor add in the cost the city pays to implement testing mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Klein promised to prepare such a document.

State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer, of Long Island, who is the new chair of the Senate education committee, asked Klein why advocates were reporting that class sizes had not dropped during the Klein administration, despite the fact that the state sent money to New York City for just that purpose. Klein said that class sizes have declined, adding that class size reduction should be just one of a menu of goals for the school system.

Klein did receive one set of positive comments, from Assemblywoman Barbara Clark, of Queens, who told Klein that he has done a good job of raising achievement. Klein seemed to have anticipated her warm words. When he first addressed her, he accidentally called her “Barbara.” Then, grinning, he apologized and addressed her as “Assemblywoman.”

School choice

It started with vouchers and charter schools. Now Indiana’s exploring more ways for kids to learn outside traditional public schools.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Through its voucher and charter school programs, Indiana lawmakers have for years embraced strategies to promote school choice. Now, a new proposal that would let kids take classes outside their public schools could expand those efforts even further.

The program, which is already gaining attention nationally for being at the forefront of school choice strategies, is making its Indiana debut in recently filed House Bill 1007, authored by Rep. Tony Cook, R-Cicero.

The bill lays out the basics of what looks kind of like a voucher program, where students can use public dollars to pay for outside schooling — one course at a time. The “course access” program would allow students to choose certain classes to take outside their public school, such as an advanced physics course, Behning said. Then, those course providers would get a cut of a school or district’s state funding.

So far, there are no specifics on who providers might be, but Behning said they could also include public schools that have online or distance learning programs set up.

“It really makes sense when you talk about some of the smaller districts we have,” said Bob Behning, House Education Committee chairman. “Even in some of our urban districts, with some of the shortages we have, It makes sense to have some availability.”

Advocates, such as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, said in a 2014 report that it levels the playing field between students, citing that students from low-income families, those who attend rural schools or minority students might have fewer opportunities than their wealthier urban or suburban counterparts.

But critics oppose the program for many of the same reasons they oppose a voucher program. The programs can funnel money away from public schools, typically taking a cut of a school’s state tuition dollars to pay whomever provides the outside classes. In some states, that has been for-profit education providers and online schools.

Online schools across Indiana and the United States have failed to demonstrate widespread academic achievement, but they remain a choice that a growing number of Indiana students and students across the country are turning to.

Under Indiana’s proposed bill, the Indiana Department of Education would be responsible for creating a list of classes for the program by June 30, 2018. A provider could be any one that offers these courses, through any method, including online instruction.

A course tuition fee would also need to be determined. Behning said it’s too early yet to say how much that fee might be, but according to state data, Utah districts paid providers between $200 and $350 per course in 2015 depending on the class being offered.

Teresa Meredith, president of the Indiana State Teachers Association, said she already knows of districts that can engage in partnerships with other types of educational providers without this legislation.

“It sounds like they are creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist if there is in fact a way for schools to already do something like this,” Meredith said.

Meredith also worries that by encouraging schools and districts to go to outside providers, it could exacerbate the teacher shortage. There’s little need to hire a licensed teacher if you can outsource the class, she said.

“We need to watch out for the details and ask the question of what problem is this trying to solve,” Meredith said.

Stay tuned

Tonight Indiana’s new governor will give his first state of the state address. What can we expect to hear about education?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Tonight Gov. Eric Holcomb will address Hoosiers in the annual State of the State address.

Holcomb so far has had a fairly light education policy agenda and K-12 budget with increases that some lawmakers say are not enough. With this year’s emphasis on road funding and transportation, it could be that education won’t figure prominently in his speech.

Earlier this month, Holcomb proposed sending an additional $280 million to Indiana schools — an increase of 3 percent. It would double the amount the state spends on preschool tuition in 2018 and 2019 in the original five counties, going from $10 million per year to $20 million. Holcomb’s preschool proposal differs from the priorities of other Republican legislative leaders.

Aside from the $280 million increase, Holcomb’s budget plan would also set aside $1 million per year for coordinating science, technology, engineering and math programs across the state and $1 million per year, with the possibility of federal matching grants, for districts to support internet access.

Another main part of his education agenda would be making Indiana’s elected schools chief a governor-appointed position beginning in 2021.

Former Gov. Mike Pence’s speech last year made many references to education, through ISTEP, A-F grades and the consequences they can have for schools and teachers.

The speech begins at 7 p.m. and can be streamed online. Follow Chalkbeat reporter @ShainaRC on Twitter for more.