feel the love

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.”

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

money matters

Why so negative? Colorado lawmakers seek to rebrand controversial tool that limits spending on schools

A student works at Tollgate Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Colorado lawmakers are tired of hearing about the “negative factor.”

So they changed its name — at least in statute.

Going forward, the tool that budget writers will use to spend down the state’s financial obligation to public schools to balance the state budget officially will go by its original name: the “budget stabilization factor.”

The change was made when lawmakers passed the state’s annual school funding bill earlier this month.

The negative factor “has been used as a pejorative,” said state Sen. Kevin Priola, the Henderson Republican who put forth the idea of the name change. “The budget is never perfect. But these are the economic realities we have to deal with.”

Some education funding advocates are rolling their eyes. The term, they say, has become so well known and accepted that any attempt to change it will be difficult.

“You can change the name, but the debt’s the same,” said Lisa Weil, executive director of Great Education Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates for more school funding.

The negative factor — oh, sorry, we mean the budget stabilization factor — is just one part of a much larger and complex formula used to determine school funding.

The budget tool was first created in 2009 when state lawmakers were forced to slash the budget after the Great Recession.

School advocates knew they couldn’t escape the cuts the rest of the state was facing. So a team of lawmakers, lobbyists, superintendents and financial officers helped developed the tool.

Here’s how it works: After lawmakers determine how much funding schools should receive based on a formula developed in 1994, they compare that amount to available tax revenue. The difference is that year’s “stabilization factor.”

At the time the tool was created, the group wanted the cuts to be systematic — applied equally across all schools — and transparent. As part of the compromise, the state was required to track how much money it was withholding from schools.

In 2014, funding advocates sued the state, claiming the negative factor was unconstitutional. But the state Supreme Court disagreed.

Since then, Republican lawmakers have become more critical about the provision that requires them to track how much money the state isn’t giving schools. They argue that other state services such as roads, hospitals and parks all share a burden when it comes to balancing the budget.

Lawmakers have withheld about $5.8 billion from schools since the budget balancing tool was created. However, funding has slowly crept up each year, just not as fast as school leaders would hope.