into the light

City secretly renewed police control over school safety in 2003

A 1998 agreement that gives the city’s police department control over school safety is still in effect, despite city officials’ insistence that it had expired more than six years ago.

The revelation has advocates and elected officials lambasting the city for not disclosing the agreement’s extension.

The original agreement, between Mayor Rudy Giuliani and then-Board of Education President William Thompson, was set to expire in 2002 and was widely assumed to have done so. But in fact, Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein quietly renewed the agreement in January 2003.

The renewal came to light for the first time this month, after Assemblyman Karim Camara urged his colleagues to consider school safety issues when deciding how to vote on mayoral control, according to Udi Ofer, director of advocacy for the New York Civil Liberties Union. The NYCLU was working with legislators to raise the profile of school safety in the mayoral control fight.

When Camara met with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Silver showed him a copy of the memorandum’s renewal, Ofer said. The paragraph-long agreement was signed by Bloomberg and Klein on Jan. 22, 2003, and does not include an expiration date.

The renewal contradicts information the City Council received during a 2007 hearing on school safety, where council members repeatedly asked whether any formal document existed to define the relationship between the city schools and the police department.

At the hearing, a deputy chancellor, Kathleen Grimm, testified that mayoral control made such an agreement unnecessary, because the mayor controls both the schools and the police. (I reported about the hearing for Insideschools.)

Grimm’s inaccurate testimony is important because it shows just how little accountability exists in the realm of school safety, Ofer said. In addition to Grimm, a police department deputy told NYCLU that no memorandum was in effect, he said.

“If they knew of this [Memorandum of Understanding], then they lied to us,” he said. “If they didn’t know, then the people who are in charge of implementing school safety have no idea of what rules govern them.”

“Either explanation would be a bad one,” he said.

After I sought comment from her office, Council Speaker Christine Quinn released a statement earlier this week calling the department’s incorrect testimony “completely unacceptable.”

“It undermines the Council’s ability to conduct effective oversight and has prevented any real conversations on the subject of reform,” she said. “When representatives of city agencies testify at Council hearings, we take it on faith that their testimony is accurate.”

Knowing the agreement was still in effect would have changed advocates’ approach to improving school safety, Ofer said. Advocates would also have pushed harder to compel the city to provide semi-annual evaluations of school safety, as required by the memorandum. At the October 2007 City Council meeting, Grimm testified that those evaluations were not taking place.

But more important than what the agreement’s existence changes is what it says about the city’s respect for the law, Ofer said.

“What’s in place was mischaracterized to the public for years,” he said. “It is fundamentally wrong when a legal document exists and the people in charge of enforcing it don’t even know it exists.”

NYCLU filed a Freedom of Information Law request against the police and schools departments to find out if a memorandum existed, Ofer said. The police department sent NYCLU a copy of the 1998 without the 2003 renewal. The education department simply did not respond, he said.

In 1998, Giuliani and Thompson, now comptroller and a mayoral candidate, inked a deal to turn control of school safety over to the police department the following year. But after 2002, the police officers assigned to schools did not disappear. Instead, their number swelled.

The October 2007 City Council hearing came after a series of high-profile flare-ups, in which students were arrested for minor infractions and a principal was hauled from his school in handcuffs after intervening in a student’s arrest.

Grimm referred me to the Department of Education’s press office for comment. I have yet to hear back.

MOUextension From Karim Camara’s Office

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.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”