who should rule the schools (updated x2)

Diaz, Monserrate walk out of control talks, but "it's a done deal"

Sens. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Hiram Monserrate walked out of Senate talks about school governance this afternoon, but they signaled that their disagreement with the Democratic leadership wouldn’t kill a mayoral control deal reached with the Bloomberg administration yesterday, Anna Phillips reports from outside the Lower Manhattan building where the talks are happening.

“It’s a done deal, but we’re not all in agreement,” Diaz said in Spanish to a group of reporters. “The four amigos are divided today.”

Diaz added that he expects a final deal to be released today or tomorrow. No agreement has yet been put to paper.

The Senate’s leading Democrats, John Sampson and Malcolm Smith, are holding the meeting to try to persuade Democrats critical of mayoral control to come on board an agreement struck with the Bloomberg administration yesterday. The agreement would add extra checks to a mayoral control bill passed by the Assembly, including a citywide parent training center based out of CUNY and a new citywide arts panel.

Twelve other senators are still in the meeting, and others are participating by telephone, Anna reports.

Bloomberg administration officials are paying close attention to the talks, which they hope will put a final end to a debate that has been going on for seven months now. The debate hit a serious road bump when mayoral control expired June 30 without any new law passed to replace it, reverting the city back to the pre-2002 school governance law and forcing a hasty meeting of a reconvened Board of Education.

Even if no law is passed, administration officials are planning to move forward with enacting the plan’s major parts, including a citywide parent training center, a source said today. The idea is to send a strong signal to senators that the administration takes the agreement seriously.

UPDATE: Anna reports that Perkins just came out of the meeting looking more staid than usual. He said there will be a deal, and Senate Democratic leaders are about to make a group statement.

Asked if discussions were heated — which we heard from at least one senator who’s not in the room but was calling in for the latest — Perkins said they were “thorough.”

UPDATE 2: Sens. Espada and Sampson just walked out. “We have reached an agreement with respect to school governance,” Espada said, Anna reports. He said the “language has not been finalized,” but that he intends to return to Albany “before our children go to school in September.”

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.”