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Mayor Bloomberg lobbied for a law he won't uphold at home

One surprising item on Mayor Bloomberg’s list of fulfilled campaign promises was his commitment to lobby the state to pass an anti-bullying law that he has declined to enforce at the city level.

The City Council passed the Dignity for All Students Act in 2004, saying that the city needed to do more to protect students, especially gay students and members of certain religious groups, from harassment. Bloomberg immediately vetoed the act, and then after the council overturned his veto he refused to implement the law.

At the same time, the city says, Bloomberg was lobbying the State Senate and Assembly to pass essentially the same law. “The City continues to support this legislation and submitted a memo in support of both the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill,” the campaign scorecard says. It gave the lobbying plans an asterisked “done,” meaning that the promise is close to accomplished. (DASA came close to passing this year, but so far it hasn’t.)

The discrepancy is rooted in the city Department of Education’s nebulous legal position as neither a city nor a state agency, a position that got attention but no resolution in the school governance debate this year. The mayor has as a rule declined to follow school rules that the City Council has passed, such as a ban on the cell phone ban.

“We did not oppose the substance of the City Council law,” said schools department spokesman Will Havemann about DASA. “Rather, we held that the State legislature was the appropriate body to pass the legislation, and so we supported the State’s bill. The City Council is preempted by State law on disciplinary and pedagogical matters.”

The city did make efforts to address bullying in the schools, last year launching a new anti-bullying policy called Respect for All. But the new policy did not make anti-bias training mandatory for all teachers, as DASA did, angering advocates.

Those advocates say Bloomberg’s refusal to follow DASA sends a message that he doesn’t support more stringent measures to curb bullying and harassment. “It speaks volumes when the mayor is telling the state legislature what they should do but has refused to implement the Dignity for All Students Act in New York City,” said Udi Ofer, the policy director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been leading the push to get DASA implemented. “There’s a huge, huge hole between what both state DASA and city DASA say and what the city has done.”

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.”